How graduate programs are increasing access for underrepresented students

More Black and Latinx students are attending two-year and four-year institutions than ever before, but they remain underrepresented in graduate programs, particularly in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields. According to The Hechinger Report, a growing number of universities—including Georgetown—are working to clear the path to graduate degrees for underrepresented students through programs that provide application, financial, and mentoring assistance.

A survey from the Council of Graduate Schools and the Graduate Record Examinations Board indicates that just 12 percent of graduate students were Black and 11 percent Latinx in 2017. “It’s so hard to get into graduate school because the path to get there is like a secret that’s only given to certain people,” University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC), student Josiah Hardy told The Hechinger Report. “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.”

Hardy, who is majoring in biochemistry and molecular biology, is a Meyerhoff Scholar at UMBC. Since 1989, UMBC’s Meyerhoff Scholars Program has worked to increase the diversity of students pursuing STEM degrees, and more than three-quarters of program participants have gone on to earn a graduate or professional degree. A number of schools are now looking to replicate UMBC’s model, which groups students into cohorts; houses them together freshman year; hosts a six-week summer program that bridges high school and college; and provides the scholars with scholarships and other financial support, research opportunities, internships, mentoring, and counseling.

Hardy also participated in the Duke Summer Research Opportunity Program, which helps underrepresented students gain experience in the sciences. The 10-week biomedical research training program pairs students with faculty mentors, gives them time in the lab, and offers application guidance and mock interviews.

Laying the foundation for more diverse professors, physicians

Without more graduate students and doctoral candidates of color in the pipeline, institutions will struggle to achieve their goals for diversifying their faculties. Colleges also recognize that students of color are “a rapidly increasing segment of the population that will be needed to sustain the economy, and they need to have the knowledge and skills” to do that, said JoAnn Canales, dean in residence at the Council of Graduate Schools.

The Hechinger Report highlights the Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies Program (GEMS), a one-year, non-degree post-baccalaureate program that aims to help low-income, underrepresented students build the knowledge, skills, and confidence to get into and complete medical school. Four in five GEMS participants have been admitted to Georgetown University’s School of Medicine, and 96 percent of those eligible to graduate have earned medical degrees.


Fulfilling dreams, serving others

The Georgetown Experimental Medical Studies (GEMS) program is a one-year program designed to equip under-represented and disadvantaged students for success in medical education. Read Story

The University of California System, meanwhile, is in the eighth year of a nine-campus effort to recruit students from historically black colleges and universities to enroll in UC graduate programs. Students attend a summer internship, apply to graduate programs for free, and are eligible for financial aid. Similarly, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has announced plans for a program that will provide financial and academic support for selected Black, Hispanic, Asian, and Native American graduate students.

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