Funds of Knowledge in Higher Education
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Funds of Knowledge in Higher Education

Honoring Students' Cultural Experiences and Resources as Strengths

Judy Marquez Kiyama, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, Judy Marquez Kiyama, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar

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eBook - ePub

Funds of Knowledge in Higher Education

Honoring Students' Cultural Experiences and Resources as Strengths

Judy Marquez Kiyama, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar, Judy Marquez Kiyama, Cecilia Rios-Aguilar

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About This Book

Refining and building on the concept in a sophisticated and multidisciplinary way, this book uses a funds of knowledge approach and connects it to other key conceptual frameworks in education to examine issues related to the access and transition to college, college persistence and success, and pedagogies in higher education. Research on funds of knowledge has become a standard reference to signal a sociocultural orientation in education that seeks to build strategically on the experiences, resources, and knowledge of families and children, especially those from low-income communities of color. Challenging existing deficit thinking in the field, the contribution of this unique and timely book is to apply this concept to and map future work on funds of knowledge in higher education.

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Part 1

Enriching the Concept of Funds of Knowledge



The Need for a Funds of Knowledge Approach in Higher Education Contexts

Cecilia Rios-Aguilar and Judy Marquez Kiyama
It has been over 20 years since the term funds of knowledge—the existing resources, knowledge, and skills embedded in students and their families (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992)—emerged in the literature. The term was very well received in the field of education, particularly in the K–12 context. Indeed, the research on funds of knowledge (FK) has become a standard reference to signal a ‘sociocultural’ orientation in education that seeks to build strategically on the experiences, resources, and knowledge of families and children, especially those from low-income neighborhoods (Moll, Soto-Santiago, & Schwartz, 2013). After decades of research, what we know is that the FK generated, accumulated, and transmitted by students (and their families and communities) bring abundant possibilities for facilitating the success of under-represented students’ education (Moll et al., 2013; Rodríguez, 2013). Indeed, it is the connection between teachers (and their pedagogical approaches and practices) and families’ sociocultural, linguistic, and intellectual resources that makes the funds of knowledge approach appealing, relevant, meaningful, possible, and very much needed (Moll et al., 2013).
Since the concept appeared in the literature, the scholarship on FK has inspired a wealth of research and practice in many different places throughout the world and fields. And, recently, it has also been used to examine issues related to college access and transition among Latina/o students (see Rios-Aguilar & Kiyama, 2012; Kiyama, 2010). Funds of knowledge, as a concept, was first introduced in the higher education scholarship by Estela Bensimon. In her 2007 presidential address to the Association for the Study of Higher Education, she highlighted the role that FK play in helping faculty to see students and families in terms of possibilities (Rios-Aguilar & Kiyama, 2012), thus countering the negative representations of under-represented students that plague the field of higher education.
Unfortunately, the available literature on college access, persistence, and success is rife with reasons why under-represented students disproportionately fail. The predominant view is one of individually based deficits. Furthermore, the scholarship in higher education tends to assume individuals are able to control their own circumstances, have the freedom to make a variety of choices, and can respond to challenges in predictable, linear, and logical ways (Bensimon, 2007). As a result, when under-represented students appear to make choices that do not lead to successful outcomes (for example, stop or drop out of school in order to take care of family members or to find employment), it is through this individualistic deficit paradigm that they are assessed. Our concern is that the field of higher education is perpetuating the idea that under-represented students (and their families and communities) are lacking or deficient simply because they are not doing what ‘successful’ students do. Since this is the lens through which services, programs, and policies were and are created, it is no wonder why participation, retention, and graduation rates remain painfully low for under-represented college students around the country.
Another area of research in which a deficit paradigm persists in higher education is related to teaching and learning. For most college students, the main point of student contact and connection occurs within the classroom context (Chang, 2005; Cotten & Wilson, 2006; Deil-Amen, 2011). Most importantly, the ties created within the classroom are key sources of students’ sense of belonging in college, which can improve students’ persistence and success (Deil-Amen, 2011). Also, researchers have found racial/ethnic minority students are especially receptive to frequent and meaningful interaction with faculty (Chang, 2005; Kim & Sax, 2009). Scholarship that supports increased interaction between students and faculty has also found that the quality of student-faculty relationships is a stronger predictor of learning than student background (Lundberg & Schreiner, 2004; Cotten & Wilson, 2006). The far-reaching and significant value that faculty contribute to the college experience of their students should not be underestimated.
The pedagogical choices faculty make are, indeed, determined by specific perceptions of the students they teach. Similar to the K–12 context, the dominant narrative of under-represented students, particularly those attending community colleges, is that they are unprepared and not as committed to their educational endeavors as other, more successful college students (Mora, 2016). Poor academic performance is often couched in explanations that reinforce the perspective that student deficiencies are the reasons for low academic achievement (Valencia, 2010). Rather than exploring alternative explanations for low student performance, it is often easier for faculty and their respective institutions to explain academic failure as student deficiencies (Mora, 2016). Barnett (2010) correctly points out that extant research on college persistence has neglected to expound on the role of faculty and their pedagogical choices in student success and persistence decisions.
While the importance of interaction between faculty and students is well documented, we know very little about actual teaching and learning processes in higher education contexts. And sadly, despite the escalating evidence on the low persistence and completion rates in colleges in general, and in community colleges in particular, classroom instruction and teaching practices and pedagogies have been, for the most part, under-investigated and under-theorized. We argue that research on classrooms in postsecondary contexts must be conducted from a non-deficit approach. Scholars should investigate more than simply students’ attitudes; they must pay attention to the ample resources and knowledge that students bring to their classrooms, and how these can be strategically utilized to improve their learning and academic outcomes. Furthermore, we need to challenge the perceptions faculty have of the students they teach by inviting faculty to get to know students more deeply. According to Grubb and Cox (2005), “faculty are generally sympathetic to the ‘busied up’ conditions caused by work and family responsibilities” (p. 95). Unfortunately, however, being sympathetic only reinforces their deficit perspective of the students they teach (i.e., their capacity to learn) and the ways such students should be taught.
We argue in this book that a funds of knowledge approach can help faculty to consider students’ backgrounds and living conditions as sources of valuable knowledge rather than mere impediments to college-level learning. Furthermore, it is important to move beyond knowing that students are busy and have many responsibilities. Instead, faculty could learn in a deeper way about how students (and their families) navigate their resources (i.e., FK) and vulnerabilities (i.e., periods of unemployment, taking care of family members, financial scarcity, illness, etc.) in order to succeed in college.
In sum, to combat existing deficit thinking that plagues the field of higher education, we propose the use of FK to examine issues related to the transition to college, college persistence and success, and pedagogies in higher education. The goal of the present volume, therefore, is not to recapitulate work done previously, but to elaborate a FK approach for the context of higher education. In doing so, we advance an understanding of funds of knowledge by relating it to other key conceptual frameworks used in the field of higher education, including the forms of capital, critical race theory (CRT), community cultural wealth (CCW), and critical pedagogy (CP). To our knowledge, no other publication or scholarship exists that has refined the concept of FK in a careful, sophisticated, and multidisciplinary way. Finally, our goal in this book is to offer a balanced perspective. This concretely means that we do not suggest that using FK are the panacea to the problems related to college access, persistence, and success. Indeed, there remain a host of structural issues that affect students’ decisions and the way they see themselves as college students, thus complicating their academic success. Instead, in this book, we critically examine what FK can (and cannot) do to improve researchers’ and practitioners’ understanding of under-represented students’ trajectories and experiences in college.


Barnett, E. A. (2010). Validation experiences and persistence among community college students. Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 193–230.
Bensimon, E. M. (2007). The underestimated significance of practitioner knowledge in the scholarship on student success. Review of Higher Education, 30(4), 441–469.
Chang, J. C. (2005). Faculty-student interaction at the community college: A focus on students of color. Research in Higher Education, 46(7), 769–802.
Cotten, S. R., & Wilson, B. (2006). Student-faculty interactions: Dynamics and determinants. Higher Education, 51(4), 487–519.
Deil-Amen, R. (2011). Socio-academic integrative moments: Rethinking academic and social integration among two-year college students in career-related programs. Journal of Higher Education, 82(1), 54–91.
Grubb, N., & Cox, R. (2005). Pedagogical alignment and curricular consistency: The challenges for developmental education. New Directions for Community Colleges, 129, 93–103.
Kim, Y. K., & Sax, L. J. (2009). Student-faculty interaction in research universities: Differences by student gender, race, social class, and first generation status. Research in Higher Education, 50(5), 437–459.
Kiyama, J. M. (2010). College aspirations and limitations: The role of educational ideologies and funds of knowledge in Mexican American families. American Educational Research Journal, 47, 330–356. doi:10.3102/0002831209357468
Lundberg, C. A., & Schreiner, L. A. (2004). Quality and frequency of faculty-student interaction as predictor of learning: An analysis by student race/ethnicity. Journal of College Student Development, 45(5), 549–565.
Moll, L. C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classrooms. Theory Into Practice, XXXI, 132–141. doi:10.1080/00405849209543534
Moll, L. C., Soto-Santiago, S., & Schwartz, L. (2013). Funds of knowledge in changing communities. In K. Hall, T. Cremin, B. Comber, & L. Moll (Eds.), International handbook of research on children’s literacy, learning, and culture (pp. 172–183). West Sussex, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.
Mora, J. (2016). Aligning practice with pedagogy: Funds of knowledge for community college teaching. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Claremont Graduate University.
Rios-Aguilar, C., & Kiyama, J. (2012). Funds of knowledge: An approach to study Latina(o) students’ transition to college. Journal of Latinos and Education, 11, 2–16. doi:10.1080/15348431.2012.631430
Rodriguez, G. M. (2013). Power and agency in education: Exploring the pedagogical dimensions of funds of knowledge. Review of Research in Education, 37, 87–120. doi:10.3102/0091732x12462686
Valencia, R. (2010). Dismantling contemporary deficit thinking: Educational thought and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.


A Complementary Framework

Funds of Knowledge and the Forms of Capital

Cecilia Rios-Aguilar and Judy Marquez Kiyama
Our interest in examining the relationship between funds of knowledge and the forms of capital started very early in our academic careers. Our scholarship started to highlight the connections between these frameworks, and our interest in understanding these links grew over time. We wrote our initial ideas on the link between these concepts in a paper titled, “Funds of Knowledge for the Poor and Forms of Capital for the Rich?” (Rios-Aguilar, Kiyama, Gravitt, & Moll, 2011). Our article was very well received in various academic circles. Since then, our thinking about these frameworks has evolved, and we feel compelled to offer education scholars (both in K–12 and higher education) a more careful and expanded analysis of these frameworks. The goal of this chapter, then, is to clarify the disciplinary origins of the forms of capital and funds of knowledge, and to highlight the strengths, as well as the tensions, that complicate the understanding and the use of these notions to study issues of equity, power, and pedagogical change in the field of education. Furthermore, we elaborate on important aspects and distinctions that educational researchers must understand and acknowledge when utilizing these concepts. We start by discussing the notion of social capital; we then turn to the concept of cultural capital and include a careful discussion of habitus and field. Next, we present the concept of funds of knowledge. Finally, we conclude with a discussion of how the frameworks can be used collaboratively to assist educational researchers in developing a better understanding of power relations and change in educational institutions. In suggesting a new approach to conduct educational research, we also recognize t...

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