FULLERTON, CA - The achievement gap is the name given to the differences in academic performance among groups of students identified by ethnicity and income. Nationwide, for example, the majority of Asian and white non-Hispanic high school graduates enroll in college, compared to less than half of black and Latino graduates, according to the Commission on the Future of Graduate Education.
The smaller pool of black and Latino college graduates leads to an even smaller pool of black and Latino graduate students. At Cal State Fullerton, Latino students comprise one-third of the total undergraduate enrollment, yet only 15.5 percent of the postbaccalaureate enrollment.
Thanks to the efforts of Dorota Huizinga and Katherine Powers, the university has been awarded $2.8 million from the U.S. Department of Education to address that disparity over the next five years.
The Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans grant is the first of its kind for Cal State Fullerton. Only 20 such grants were awarded nationwide. CSU campuses also awarded funding are CSU Channel Islands, Dominguez Hills, Northridge and Stanislaus.
Huizinga, associate vice president for graduate programs and research, and Powers, director of graduate studies, shepherded the complex proposal for the ambitious five-year program of recruitment, retention and support services intended to increase the number of Latino and low-income postbaccalaureate graduates.
“The disparity between the overall and graduate enrollment is particularly alarming, considering a well-educated workforce with postbaccalaureate degrees is vital to the region’s economic health,” Huizinga said.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that by 2018, about 2.5 million jobs will require an advanced degree. The number of jobs requiring a master’s degree will grow by 18 percent, and those requiring a doctorate by 17 percent.
Latinos are slated to become California's majority population by 2020, but the number of Latinos pursuing higher education beyond a bachelor’s degree is not keeping pace.
As Powers explains the collaborative, cross-divisional program, it "will build the infrastructure and create a campus culture promoting postbaccalaureate education."
California "has a strong need for a masters-level educated workforce, which this project will help meet," Huizinga said. "The fastest-growing population in America is the Hispanic population and, because we are a Hispanic-Serving Institution, we are well-positioned to address the need and better serve our graduate students. And, while the goal is specifically targeting Hispanic and low-income students, all our graduate students will benefit from the added infrastructure.”
Graduate student John Marquez agreed.
The 23-year-old American studies major, who plans to complete his master's degree next year, said he looks forward to applying for one of 13 graduate assistantships that will be offered and for funding to conduct research for his thesis project.
“I think I could benefit from the grant program,” Marquez said. “It will help students like me. I think one of the biggest obstacles for minority students in graduate school is funding, and helping with funding will increase the chances for students to complete our graduate programs. But, it won’t just help minorities. I think all students gain by having a more diverse campus, where we can all learn from each other’s different experiences and outlooks.”