Latinas And Graduate Education

Hispanic Community April 2021 PREMIUM
Graduate education is an intimate intense experience.

Gone are the hectic undergraduate days of cramming and harvesting credits. A good graduate school provides concentrated explorations where teachers become colleagues helping students achieve new goals.  

The best professional employment opportunities already require some graduate education. Many Latinas have succeeded admirably as undergraduates.  It’s time more tackle graduate school. 

An Overview

 In April 2011, I wrote “Graduate School Realities and College Evolution of Latinas in the U.S.” for H.O.  I now explore recent realities. 

Graduate education like all of higher education suffered because of COVID-19.  Many Latinas postponed going to graduate school, some reduced their course load, or dropped out entirely. Will they return? They really should.

Even before the pandemic black and Hispanic students were underrepresented in graduate schools.  This was particularly evident in the much-touted STEM professions: science, technology, engineering and mathematics -- which provide excellent career opportunities.

In the fall of 2017, the most recent figures available, some 12 percent of graduate students, were black and about 11 percent Hispanic, as reported by the Council of Graduate Schools. That’s lower than their population proportions, which Census Bureau estimates at 13 percent and 18 percent, respectively.

A recent report by Melba Newsome, in The Hechinger Report entitled: “The odds are stacked against black, Latino students going to grad school” noted “In many instances, they are the first in their families to go to college, can’t afford expensive graduate educations and have little help navigating the route to an advanced degree.”

Thus, some believe, it’s very “hard to get into graduate school because the path to get there is like a secret” provided to only certain people. “If you don’t have guidance or a mentorship or any example of people who’ve done it, there’s no way you can know that.”

All of which means, Latinas have to be more pro-active and even aggressive pursing graduate education opportunities. 

Presently, Latinas earn the lowest number of terminal degrees compared to all other women. Cultural disparities hamper completion for many Latinas.

Dr. Omayra Arocho, from Seton Hall University, studied the doctoral trajectory of Latinas. She found that Latina doctoral students share common struggles with other female minority students. But “their unique Latina cultural expectations and their Latina identities conflict with traditional American educational values” and may be a contributing factor to their underrepresentation. This issue has to be addressed.

I suggest Latinas study, not just read, study “The Latina/o Pathway to the Ph.D.” edited by Jeanett Castellanos. It chronicles Hispanic Kindergarten through doctoral educational experiences.  It has chapters specifically addressing the challenges Latinas have faced and how they valiantly overcame them.

Latina successes

Latinas have already succeeded admirably at many educational levels. Recently, Telemundo published “Latinas Powering Forward.” We must, they note, “admit that overall Latinas have progressed at all levels of education and degree completion.” 

Latinas earned associate, bachelor’s and graduate degrees at an impressive 70 percent increase over the past two decades.  Specifically, in 2000, 17 percent earned a college degree versus 30 percent in 2017. 

Happily, bachelor’s attainment grew at the same rate as associate degrees. That addressed past concerns that Hispanics were not completing four-year degrees. 

The Latina college growth rate of 70 percent outpaced both Latino males who increased 56 percent and non-Latina females who increased 35 percent.  Their success has been unique. Latina college completion rates are expected to continue growing, since 34 percent of Gen-Z Latinas were enrolled in college in 2017 compared to 18 percent in 2000.

Fortunately, many Latinas are earning bachelor’s degrees in non-traditional fields. The share of bachelor’s STEM degrees among Latinas almost doubled from 5 percent in 2005 to 9 percent in 2014.

 Latinas are also breaking the “pink collar” pattern so prevalent among women in years past. That is to say many entered underpaid and frequently under-appreciated “service careers” i.e., book keeper instead of accountant, nurse instead of a medical doctor, etc.  Among employed women in science and engineering who earned their highest degree in STEM, Latinas increased from 4 percent to 10 percent from 1995 to 2015. These are significant achievements.

Future trends

As reported by the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education, the number of Caucasian high school graduates will drop significantly by 2032. At the same time, Hispanic high school graduates will continue to increase substantially; the number of black graduates will fall slightly. Consequently, to survive colleges including graduate schools will have to recruit more Hispanics. So new opportunities to study will be created.

Secondly, colleges and universities wish to diversify their faculties, which requires more doctorates to be earned by non-Caucasian students. This as an “untapped market” with professional opportunities for ambitious Latinas.

Progress, slow but … 

In 2017 of those who earned research doctorates, only 6.7 percent were black and 7.1 percent were Hispanic, as reported by the National Science Foundation. That represents a small increase from the proportions of black and Hispanic doctoral recipients in 2014, which were 6.4 percent for each group. In short, slow improvement in face of a growing need.

Faculty diversity goals

The Hispanic Journal of Law & Policy reports that although many universities have faculty diversity goals the number of Latinas hired has barely increased for years on end. At the highest-level research universities, the proportion of Hispanic tenured faculty, male and female, increased by two-thirds of one percent from 2013 to 2017. The fact that this shortcoming is being publicized bodes well for change.

Bottom Line

In the last decade, Latina educational successes have been impressive. They have done far better than their male counterparts. But they still lag behind the general population in graduate education. More should build on their academic successes and attend graduate school.

Most universities offer financial aid and have programs for working adults.  Your employer should help subsidize your graduate education. Inquire.

Latinas should not wait to be courted. They must seek information and assistance themselves. Contact the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, DC. They have a track record of providing excellent advice and have specific programs in place. 

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