Beating the Odds: First Generation Latinas with Ed.D’s
A terminal degree is often perceived to be nothing more than a dream. The statistics can easily deter one from pursuing the journey. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2013) of the 89,934 doctoral degrees conferred in the year 2012-2013, only 6.9% were earned by Latinas. This low percentage was also the case for degrees in education, in which only 6% of degrees were earned by Latinas/o. In addition to these discouraging statistics, Latinas have to overcome a number of social, cultural, and financial challenges to pursue educational advancement. We hope this blog will provide some insights on the doctoral journey and inspire you to take action so that you too can beat the odds.
Insights from Dr. Marquez
Support Systems: Having a strong support system is a non-negotiable. It is important to ask yourself, “How will this journey impact my responsibilities? Will my loved ones be understanding of the time commitment required?” My doctorate would not have been possible without the unwavering support of my family, friends, and cohort. I am a firm believer of the importance of writing down your goals, reviewing them, visualizing them, but also having your personal “board of trustees” to hold you accountable. My partner was selfless and never made me feel guilty when I couldn’t spend quality time with him once I entered dissertation mode. My cohort operated in a “we are in this together” mindset. We organized dissertation Tuesdays, in which every Tuesday after work we wrote in each other’s company. My supervisor provided the most important aspect of support, which was flexibility at my workplace. I would be remiss not to share the importance of self-support by having the confidence to persevere against all obstacles. These mechanisms kept my eyes on the goal – #Drbefore30 and I successfully achieved it!
Lessons Learned: Earning a doctorate can be academically, personally, and financially taxing. Academically, when I first started I would compare my writing ability to my peers. I attended failing public schools in the South Bronx and as a first generation college student it wasn’t until recently that I considered my writing as one of my strongest competencies. It takes practice and patience, but it is a skill that can be mastered with time. Learn from my mistakes by avoiding comparing yourself to others and remember that your plight is your own. As far as personal sacrifices, I rejected many invitations because I either didn’t have the time or because I was living on a tight budget. On that financial note, four years of graduate tuition at Fordham University costs approximately $80,000 and borrowed less than $20,000 in loans. My experience is considered an anomaly. I was fortunate that as a residence life professional, my living expenses were covered. However, I did this while providing financial support to my family (as many Latinas do). It is important to live within your means. Overall, it was a long and arduous process, but I have no regrets and graduating was by far the happiest day of my life.
Life Happens: Realistically speaking, the unexpected will occur. Should you have to push back graduating it is completely acceptable to do so as long as you get back on track and make it to the finish line before the allotted time given. Most doctoral degree programs provide up to eight years to finish the degree before losing your coursework credits and having to start from scratch. Ultimately, anything is possible if you have the persistence to persevere until the end goal and that’s Doctora!
Insights from Dr. Lendof
Why do it? I did not always know I wanted a doctorate. To be honest, I was unaware that this degree existed until my senior year in college. However, what I did know was that I wanted to do everything in my power to ensure that I had options in life and in my career. As I advanced in my career it became evident that not having a doctorate would limit my chances of moving up to the highest levels of administration in higher education. While I still don’t know my final career destination, having a doctorate degree keeps me in the game as I explore senior-level administrative positions in higher education, teaching in higher education, and it keeps the door open for me to explore the presidency should I decide to consider it in the future.
When to do it? We have given you some tips for exploring the process but the decision of when to do it is all in your hands and how you respond to the challenges that you encounter in life. I personally feel there is never a right time to do it; there is the time you choose to get started and the time God has set for you to finish. Once you decide to embark the doctoral journey, it is one more thing you are doing NOT the ONLY thing you are doing. I was able to finish coursework quickly and thought the rest would be easy, but then I had problems with my advisor, my son was ill, and I went through a divorce, which led me to take a four-year detour from the program. I was on the road to becoming another “ABD” without-the-degree statistic, but instead I decided to trust God.
How to do it? Have a plan! We discussed the finances and support earlier, but I want to share some personal tips on the how I did it: faith, a church community, family, and friends. From the moment I began the application process I realized that while I will be the one to do the course-work and write the dissertation, it would be very hard and almost impossible to do it alone. For every moment I questioned my ability and commitment to the process and finishing the dissertation, I reminded myself that God would not have opened the door for me if he did not want me to finish. I kept asking God to guide the way and be my light. At the end I learned that God wanted me to finish as much as I did, but more importantly that he was on my side. God always comforted me, gave me the strength and courage to persevere. I also had an outstanding church family on my side. Church members prayed with me, checked-up on me, and some read my work and provided feedback. If my son was ill, they brought food home. In addition to God and my church community, I was blessed with an amazing family, husband, and friends. While they did not always understand what I was doing or why I was doing it, they supported me every step of the way. Without prayer, the support I received, and most of all without God, I don’t think I would have made it.
Our hope is that our stories inspire you to pursue a doctoral degree, if it is within your heart. The doctoral process has its trying times, but is also undoubtedly fulfilling and rewarding. Realistically, we want to point out that earning the doctorate will not automatically lead to a promotion or to the next step in your career. However, it will certainly open many doors and will break down one more barrier for professional advancement opportunities. This credential has become a necessity for women of color to obtain a senior-level position in higher education. In life they often say “nothing is forever,” but, once earned, “Doctora” can never be taken away. It is yours to keep! If you think you are ready to begin exploring doctoral programs, below are five tips that can provide guidance on getting started.
Five Tips for Starting the Doc Journey
- Research different institutions (if you work in higher education can you do it at your place of work?)
- Learn about the different programs, the faculty and their research interests? Is it a cohort-system? How diverse is it?
- Do the institutions and programs you are interested in provide any financial assistance or scholarships? Can you afford to take on loans?
- Will you be willing to go full-time and/or relocate if the program is fully funded?
- Find out the admissions requirements and pay close attention to deadlines. Do you need to take the GREs? Who can serve as your reference?