Cultural Wealth and Graduate Education – The Next 100 Years

by drfelder

Graduate Education, Cultural Wealth, and the Next 100 Years

The Centennial year theme for the 2016 American Educational Research Association annual meeting held in Washington, D.C., was “Public Scholarship to Educate Diverse Democracies.” To commemorate 100 years (1916 – 2016) of the association’s presence, conference participants shared perspectives on the growth and development of education research during the century.  In alignment with this occasion, members of AERA’s Special Interest Group for Graduate and Postdoctoral Education across Disciplines considered reflections about the role of research on diverse college and university environments in graduate education and how this work contributes to the field of higher education. AERA’s SIG on Graduate and Postdoctoral Education across disciplines values the role of doctoral education research and the increasing global impact during the last half century.  The SIG supports the work of scholars who focus on graduate (master’s and doctoral) and postdoctoral experiences to develop and publicize research on graduate and postgraduate experiences.

Benefits of this work serves AERA members, the graduate community, professional associations, government agencies, potential students, current students, faculty and training supervisors, and the general public.  The SIG supports the development of research initiatives on graduate and postgraduate education to better address development and implementation of innovation practices. In light of this SIG focus, the centennial, and demographic shifts in graduate education, the purpose of this commentary is to highlight some critical issues influencing the development of research and its potential for the next century.  Observations of key reports by The Commission for the Future of Graduate Education (2010, 2012) identify challenges and opportunities regarding systemic development of graduate education. This work suggests the need for additional research focused on institutionalizing racial and cultural awareness practices in the following areas: recruitment and retention; establishing professional development outcomes, development of institutional partnerships, and student transitions into career pathways, including the professoriate.   

This commentary provides brief analysis of these challenges as they relate to four key contextual issues Gumport’s (2016) contextual perspectives for the causes for interdependence and strain in graduate education and discusses challenges and opportunities based on four key areas:  uncertainty in external funding; increased competition for federal research funds; commercialization; and student concerns about the availability of career opportunities. Given the rapidly changing demographics in higher education and the legacies of exclusion regarding historically marginalized communities, consideration of racial and cultural experiences is paramount to the proliferation of graduate education and the communities it serves.  Thus, a reexamination of the areas of interdependence and strain in graduate education calls for a focus on the ways race and culture intersect with these dynamics.

The concept of cultural wealth (Yosso, 2005) lends guidance towards renewed perspectives of the contributions historically marginalized communities make to our graduate education system.  Yosso identifies six areas of capital for cultural wealth: Aspirational, linguistic, familial, navigational, social, resistance. Navigational capital refers to students’ skills and abilities to navigate social institutions and educational spaces and aligns, conceptually, with decades of campus climate research.  Research development on diversity, racial and cultural awareness, racial and cultural inequities, and institutional transformation has generated a type of cultural wealth within higher education scholarship. This scholarship has informed the way our graduate education functions regarding the value placed upon race and culture within higher education.  In many ways research developments by scholars committed to strengthening the focus of racial and cultural relevance within institutional environments is critical to leading progress within our graduate education system. Cultural wealth values the racial and cultural experiences, perspectives, and practices students bring with them to educational environments and views them as sources of individual and community empowerment.

Uncertainty in External Funding

In discussing the volatility of forces shaping the key market forces for higher education, Gumport (2016) notes federal involvement began with organizational efforts to designate advisory boards for scientific research.  Analysis of graduate education supporting the development of scientific discovery and the existence of leadership facilitating research and practice, particularly focused on historically marginalized communities, raises questions about key stakeholders, their representation, and their commitment to advocacy.  Oftentimes perspectives on managing this uncertainty influences consideration of key priorities within graduate education. For example, Gumport notes, the establishment of the National Research Council (NRC) in 1919, became the principal organizational vehicle for monitoring research efforts and how federal funds were channeled to university research.  This process intended to represent the federal government, the public, and scientists and engineers. add transition here to address the question: in what ways were historically marginalized communities considered? When considering historically marginalized communities, the presence of ethnic-racial categories by the NRC emerged with consistent demographic representation around 1975 add more here.  Therefore, what is the likelihood of historically marginalized communities being considered during times of uncertainty. Advocacy efforts matter often matter the most during times of uncertainty. In what ways will historically marginalized communities be considered in times of uncertainty? How can advocates in higher education and graduate education research and practice facilitate cultural wealth in times of uncertainty?

Consider student enrollment, higher education’s chief revenue market; observations about recruitment and retention highlight critical details shaping the experiences of students. The Survey of Earned Doctorates (2018) reports 54,904 doctoral degree completers; approximately 22,000 of those recipients represented historically marginalized communities.  In an examination of doctorates during the 20th Century, The Survey of Earned Doctorates (2006) reports, in terms of fields of study, more than 1.35 million research doctorates were awarded in the United States during the last eight decades of the 20th century— 62 percent in science and engineering (S&E) and 38 percent in non-S&E. Although the number of S&E doctorates exceeded the number of non-S&E doctorates in every year, education was the largest major field from 1962 to 1999.  From a disciplinary perspective, racial and cultural advocacy in education fields, for example, is especially critical with larger numbers of Blacks/African Americans and Latinos pursuing graduate degrees in these areas. Historically marginalized populations accounted for nearly 14 percent of all S&E doctorates awarded to U.S. citizens in 1995–99, compared with about 6 percent in 1975–79, when data on race/ethnicity were first collected in the SED.

Among U.S. citizens, historically marginalized populations also increased their share of non-S&E doctorates from less than 10 percent in 1975–79 to more than 14 percent in 1995–99.   In terms of gender, men received about 73 percent of all doctorates awarded between 1920 and 1999 (Survey Earned Doctorates, 2006). The rapid increase in the numbers of women earning doctorates, beginning in the 1960s, increased their share of doctorates from 15 percent in the early 1920s to 41 percent in the late 1990s. Furthermore, during the last four decades of the century, non-U.S. citizens earned increasing shares of doctoral awards in each of the major fields. From 1920 to 1959 doctoral awards to non-U.S. citizens rose from 6 to 12 percent of all doctorates awarded. From 1960–64 to 1995–99, the share of doctorates awarded to foreign nationals rose from 16 to 39 percent in all S&E fields combined and from 7 to 17 percent in non-S&E fields. Most foreign nationals, both men and women, received their degrees in S&E fields.  The role and nature of the international student experience as contributors to the composition of diverse college and university environments has transformed systems of support on our campuses. In what ways is the increase in enrollment reflected in advocacy representation to support recruitment and retention, and ultimately degree completion for historically marginalized populations and international students?  How has this increase of historically marginalized and international students contributed to the cultural wealth of our college and university environments?

Increased Competition for Federal Research Funds

Uncertainty in external funding facilitates concerns about how increased competition for federal research funds is managed.  To support historically marginalized students, federal investment in graduate education has been largely represented in several educational pipeline initiatives (Gumport, 2016).  They include the Ronald E. Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program, Louis Stokes Alliances for Minority Participation Program, Alliances for Graduate Education and the Professoriate, and numerous university-based initiatives focused on recruitment, retention, degree completion and transition into career pathways.  

Though these programs may compete against themselves for funding support, a closer look at these initiatives individually reveal increased competition exists within the programs themselves.  For example, TRIO consists of eight programs that collectively provide services from middle school through graduate school: Upward Bound (UB), Upward Bound Math Science (UBMS), Veterans Upward Bound (VUB), Educational Talent Search (TS), Student Support Services (SSS), Educational Opportunity Centers (EOC), and Ronald E. McNair Post-Baccalaureate Achievement Program (McNair), as well as a training program for TRIO project staff.  Thus, any potential advocacy for graduate students specifically exists as 1/8th of TRIOs total focus on educational pipeline support initiatives.

Furthermore, TRIO’s board of directors represents all programs and increased competition among them may serve to minimize and/or complicate funding support for historically marginalized graduate students.  Gumport notes that increasing participation of historically marginalized graduate students is a national necessity in order to maintain global competitiveness. To facilitate continued support towards developing cultural wealth, advocacy in the form of leadership must be renewed with a stronger more dedicated focus to graduate education initiatives, specifically.  In what ways do existing educational pipeline initiatives advocate for historically marginalized graduate students specifically? In what ways do existing educational pipeline initiatives advocate for diverse college environments?


Gumport’s (2016) discussion of commercialization depicts higher education’s Postwar expansive enterprise through the representation of disciplinary development and increasing enrollment trends.  From a disciplinary perspective, the concept of cultural wealth supports the expansion of racial and cultural interests of graduate students looking to transition into careers where the application of racial and cultural competence is a valuable skill.  The role and value of cultural wealth is far beyond its meaning regarding the commercialized interests of industry during the Postwar era.

The United States graduate education system is deemed an educational “model for the world” (Survey of Earned Doctorates, 2014).   Certainly, this bears truth regarding historically marginalized graduate students. For example, a notable aspect of the report highlights the contribution of doctoral degree completers on the list of Nobel Peace Prize winners.  Esteemed Civil Rights Leader and Morehouse College graduate, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. known for leading the largest Civil Rights Movement in the United States. His social justice activism garnered a federally-recognized holiday, numerous social and commercial enterprises, and a national monument.  Some might deem the commercial and/or economic influence of this contribution invaluable regarding its representation of cultural wealth.

While commercialization addresses the economic developments of industry, the relevance of race and culture has tremendous implications for building cultural wealth within our college and university environments.   The role of graduate education to cultivate leadership and the dissemination of knowledge in various disciplines, industries, organizations, and communities continues to develop; cultural wealth is a valuable asset in this development.  How can cultural wealth continue to be actualized within our graduate education system?

Student Concerns about the Availability of Career Opportunities

Rapid Postwar expansion led to the rampant development in postbaccalaureate educational and career opportunities (Gumport, 2016).  However, for historically marginalized graduate students access to these opportunities continue to be problematic and complicated by educational pipeline issues affecting graduate degree completion and transition in career pathways.  The Commission for the Future of Graduate Education (The Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Center, 2012) identified several vulnerabilities influencing graduate education access for students: demographic shifts; disruptions in the pathways; growth in international education, attrition; debt; and lack of transparency regarding career options.  

Over time these vulnerabilities have served to create institutional climates where the value of cultural wealth is undermined, minimized, and not fully understood regarding opportunities to enhance doctoral student experiences and strengthen institutional capacity for sustaining diverse environments (McAlpine, Paulson, Gonsalves & Jazvac-Martek, 2012).  Moving towards cultural wealth involves seeing student concerns related to race and culture as opportunities to strengthen institutional environments. Renewed perspectives focused on cultural wealth can increase potential for understanding how diversity can facilitate the development of innovation leading to new career opportunities. In what ways might we consider cultural wealth to facilitate renewed perspectives on supporting students?

Implications for Future Research and Practice

There are several areas where this work can continue to make an impact.  Continuing research on the foundations of previous and current policies, trends, and issues in graduate education serves to identify vestiges of exclusion that exist as barriers to academic success and degree completion.  For example, scholarship focused on key dimensions of diversity regarding the undergraduate experience has informed what is known of about the graduate student experience, transformative practices, the value of diversity and  intellectual development; preparation for career and educational opportunities, overall student development support, and institutional transformation (Hurtado, Milem, Allen, Clayton-Pedersen, 1998; 1999; Harper & Hurtado, 2007).  Future research and practice must continue to draw on this work to understand its applicability and function in our higher education and its systemic vulnerabilities (Worthington, 2012).

During the next 100 years, research on the relationship between graduate education and the development of disciplines and industries will be a driving force in the way institutions continue educate graduate students.  The role of departments have been foundational in these areas towards (re)building institutional processes for graduate education (Golde, 2005). This involves scholarship and practice focused on theoretical and philosophical foundations of graduate education; recruitment; retention; advisement; mentoring; acquisition of knowledge, academic success, degree completion, and transition into postdoctoral and career opportunities  (Nettles & Millett, 2006) Key to this work will be the increase of regional, national, and global emphasis on culturally relevant institutional-industry partnerships to cultivate funding and career opportunities for students (Council of Graduate Schools & Educational Testing Service, 2012).

An underlying goal of this commentary is to engage active discussion about the ways AERA considers supporting its graduate  educational communities across divisions and special interest groups, facilitate dialogue about challenges we face regarding racial and cultural inequities, consider opportunities for growth and development where race and culture can be viewed as institutional wealth, and develops strategies for improving and strengthening commitments to advocacy for historically marginalized communities.  Gumport (2016) and Yosso’s (2005) perspectives provide guidance for deeper analysis of racial and cultural relevance and their role in diverse environments and the changing nature of graduate education. While Gumport’s analysis of historical and current trends illuminate forces shaping graduate education, Yosso’s work creates analytical space for issues on the cultural experiences related to the ethno-racial composition of students, and the cultivation of peer-reviewed research representing historically marginalized communities.  Given the position of AERA and its reach as a global leader, considering their work informs practice and advocacy in these areas towards the future development of graduate education.


Council of Graduate Schools and Educational Testing Service. (2012). Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Report from the Commission on Pathways Through Graduate School and Into Careers. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.

Golde, C.M. (2005).  The role of the department and discipline in doctoral student attrition:  Lesson from four departments, The Journal of Higher Education, 76,6, 669-700.

Harper, S. R., & Hurtado, S. (2007). Nine themes in campus racial climates and implications for institutional transformation. New Directions for Student Services, 2007(120), 7–24.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J. F., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. Review of Higher Education, 21(3), 279–302.

Hurtado, S., Milem, J. F., Clayton-Pedersen, A., & Allen, W. (1999). Enacting diverse learning environments: Improving the climate for racial/ethnic diversity in higher education institutions. Washington: ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report Series: George Washington University Graduate School of Education.

McAlpine, L., Paulson, J., Gonsalves, A., Jazvac-Martek, M. (2012).  ‘Untold’ doctoral stories: can we move beyond cultural narratives of neglect?, Higher Education Research & Development, (31)4, 511-523.

National Science Foundation, National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics. 2018. Doctorate Recipients from U.S. Universities: 2016. Special Report NSF 18-304. Alexandria, VA.

National Science Foundation, Division of Science Resources Statistics, U.S. Doctorates in the 20th Century, NSF 06-319, Lori Thurgood, Mary J. Golladay, and Susan T. Hill (Arlington, VA 2006).

Nettles, M. T., & Millett, C. M. (2006). Three magic letters: Getting to Ph.D. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

Worthington, R. (2012).  Advancing scholarship for the diversity imperative in higher education:  An editorial, Journal for Diversity in Higher Education, 5(1), 1-7.

Yosso, T. (2015).  Whose culture has capital?  A critical race discussion of community cultural wealth, race and ethnicity in education, (8)1, 69-91.


Special thanks to the following individuals who were reviewers of this work:  Dr. Karri Holley, University of Alabama, Dr. Nicole Norfles, Council for the Opportunity in Education, Dr. Shaoan Zhang, University of Nevada Las Vegas, and Ms. Cheryl L. Miller, for reading iterations of this work.
Written by Pamela Pertrease Felder, Ph.D., Founder of #BlackDoctoratesMatter