First generation students encounter barriers and struggles while navigating higher education but that hasn’t stopped Latinxs from pursuing college degrees. Latinxs are more likely to be first-generation college students than any other racial/ethnic group with 44 percent being the first in their family to attend college, according to educational nonprofit organization Excelencia in Education. Now a fellow first gen Latina student has made history as California State University’s first Latina chancellor. Mildred García, an established Puerto Rican higher education leader, will oversee the university system’s 23 campuses, which rank among the most diverse institutions in the country. The CSU system, the largest four-year university system in the U.S., is also the state’s largest producer of bachelor’s degrees, having enrolled more than 457,000 students in fall 2022 and boasting around 130,000 annual graduates.
“I am honored, humbled and excited for this opportunity to serve the nation’s largest four-year university system and work alongside its dedicated leaders, faculty and staff, and its talented and diverse students to further student achievement, close equity gaps and continue to drive California’s economic prosperity,” García said in a CSU statement about her announcement as chancellor.
García is currently president of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities; in the past, she was president of Cal State Fullerton from 2012 to 2018, where she was recognized for improving graduation rates by 65 percent and closing the achievement gaps between Latinxs and their white & Asian peers. The campus graduated more Latinx students than any other campus in California during her time there, and the second most in the nation. Additionally, she was the first Latina president of CSU Dominguez Hills from 2007 to 2012, where she was credited with raising retention rates for freshmen and transfer students.
The 71-year-old was raised in Brooklyn, New York by parents from Puerto Rico. As a first-gen student, she was the first in her family to earn a college degree, graduating with an associate degree from New York City Community College, a bachelor’s in business education from Baruch College, a master’s in business education from New York University, & a master’s and doctorate in higher education administration at Columbia University’s Teachers College. Additionally, she was part of the President’s Advisory Commission on Educational Excellence for Hispanics under former President Barack Obama.
“I was given the opportunity, the opportunity to excel. And that is one of the most important lessons — the opportunity for all to reach their highest potential,” she told the Los Angeles Times.
Nearly half of the 460,000 students enrolled in the system are Latinx, the publication reported, and one-third of CSU undergraduates are the first in their families to attend college.
“I see myself in the students,” she told Inside Higher Ed. “The situations may be different, but I know what it means to really want to get a degree and what you need to do to do it, and I know it’s not easy for many of our students.”
García will begin her tenure as chancellor on October 1.