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Empowering Futures: The Impact of Chico State on Hispanic/Latino Graduate Students

Empowering Futures: The Impact of Chico State on Hispanic/Latino Graduate Students

For 37 years, the Graduate Equity Fellowship Program at California State University, Chico, has been dedicated to increasing the number of Latino students pursuing and attaining master’s and doctoral degrees.  Graduate degrees lead to exciting professional opportunities, life-long career advancement, job security, and increased earnings. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects growth of almost 17% in occupations requiring master’s degrees and nearly 13% in doctoral-level occupations by 2026 (Torpey, 2018). Labor statistics also show earning increases and unemployment decreases for those with graduate degrees compared to all other workers (Chen, 2017; BLS, 2022).  

The benefits conferred to those with graduate degrees are well-reported, but degree attainment is not evenly disbursed; the number of Latinos with advanced degrees (8%) is far below the overall U.S. population (19%) (Mora and Hugo Lopez, 2023). Without those advanced degrees, our Chico State Latino students will not have access to many rewarding careers and opportunities, especially in higher education teaching and research. We see the effect at our own university, where our student population is 36.8% Latino, but only 5.4% of our faculty are Latino despite our intensive efforts to diversify our faculty (Chico State Fact Book, 2023).  

The over-arching goal of Chico State’s Graduate Equity program is to close this equity gap by providing our Latino students assistance to overcome academic, cultural, and financial barriers to attain their master’s degree; explore doctoral degree opportunities, including university faculty and research careers; and transition successfully to Ph.D. programs. 

The program selects ten graduate student participants per year who are generally underrepresented in higher education or within specific disciplines, have compelling personal and academic accomplishments, and have financial need. All students participate in these coordinated activities for up to two years: 

• Faculty-Mentored Research Project. Faculty mentors provide students with a paid research assistantship to deepen their research, writing, analytical, and presentation skills. Student work with faculty to complete a research project to be presented at conferences and for possible publication. 

• Peer-Group and Alumni Collaborative. Students engage in a peer writing and research group facilitated by a faculty coordinator to help students overcome social or cultural barriers, to be inspired and learn from peers across the disciplines, and to provide peer support and encouragement. 

• Doctoral Degree Exploration and Preparation Workshops. Students are provided a series of workshops to explore and pick programs, prepare financial plans, and write applications.

• Alumni Connections. While still students, they are provided regular opportunities to meet with and develop professional relationships with program alumni. Upon graduation, they become members of the alumni association   and continue to engage with current and past fellows. 

• Lower Student Debt. To minimize their outside employment and student loan debt, students are paid $7356/year as research assistants and awarded a fellowship of $2100 from funding provided by the California State University Chancellor’s Office. 

The Graduate Equity Fellowship program’s elements add up to notable student success outcomes. In fall 2023, Excelencia in Education selected the program as one of the “Examples of Excellence” in the graduate education category, based on data showing that in the last 10 years, 97% of Latinx Graduate Equity Fellows attained their master’s degrees compared to the overall degree completion rate of 82%. Since its inception in 1986, 93% of the program’s Latinx students have completed their master’s degrees. (Chico State Institutional Research and Student Records, 1986-2022).  

In addition, the fellows have produced quality research selected for conference presentations, publications, and state-wide research competition awards. Their work has been adopted as policy or reformed the practices of health and welfare agencies in our region and state. Fellows have garnered other national and state awards and scholarships that bring them and our university significant recognition.

Upon graduation, our fellows have taken professional jobs in a wide range of occupations, including college student service professionals and lecturers. 

Yvette Zuniga, former fellow and now Associate Director of the Office of Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion at Chico State, says of the program: “My experience as a Graduate Equity Fellow was life changing. As a first generation college student, I was empowered to do my research, present research, and attend conferences, all with the guidance of a mentor.” 

Alondra Adame, a recent former fellow and now a lecturer at a local community college, is a published poet and essayist who credits some of her success to the fellowship program: “The program offered me time to dedicate solely to my writing. Creating a full-length manuscript of essays required not only time to write but also time to research and hone my understanding of the craft. I truly believe this experience gave me the foundation to become a lecturer who works to encourage curiosity and excitement for student research and writing.”  

Other Graduate Equity Fellows have transitioned to Ph.D. programs to pursue careers as professors and researchers. For example, in the last three years, several fellows enrolled in Ph.D. programs (at UCLA, UC Davis, and the University of Oklahoma) have just been accepted or are applying this year.  

Former fellow Gustavo Martir and current Ph.D. student writes: “Receiving the Graduate Equity Fellowship not only gave me the opportunity to conduct faculty-mentored research, it also allowed me to hone skills to successfully transition into a Ph.D. program at the University of California, Los Angeles.” 

The Chico State Graduate Equity Fellowship program furthers our university’s commitment to contribute to a just and resilient future for our students. We have succeeded in helping our Latino graduate students overcome economic, cultural, social, and personal barriers to achieve graduate degrees and rewarding professional careers that too few others in our society ever attain, and that will provide them a sense of accomplishment and lifetime opportunities for further transformation and success. 


“Chico State Facts,” California State University, Chico, 2023. 

Chen, Allen. “More Education: Lower unemployment; higher earnings,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, April 2017.


“Education Pays, 2022,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, May 2023. 


“Elka, Torpey, “Education level and projected openings, 2019-29,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, October 2020.


“Elka, Torpey, “Employment outlook for graduate-level occupations,” Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, August 2018.

Mora, Lauren and Mark Hugo Lopez, “Key Facts about Latinos with Graduate Degrees,” Short Reads, Pew Research Center, October 3, 2023.

About the author 

Sharon Barrios is the Dean of Graduate Studies and Director of the Graduate Equity Fellowship Program at California State University, Chico. She is an active grant writer and has helped to secure federal HSI grants to build pathways to graduate degree programs for diverse and underrepresented individuals. She is a graduate of Chico State with a bachelor’s in History and a bachelor’s and master’s in political science. She has a master’s and Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University.