Atwater native Jesus Cisneros reluctantly left the Central Valley to earn his bachelor's degree at the University of California at Berkeley. But now that UC Merced is up and running, he has happily returned and is working toward a master's degree.
Cisneros is one of thousands of college students taking advantage of graduate-level degrees offered at local universities, allowing valley talent to stay in the valley.
Offering master's and doctoral degrees is just as important as offering bachelor's degrees to bring the valley's rate of going to college up to par with the rest of the state.
"Especially in developing tomorrow's leaders in California," Cisneros said. "A bachelor's degree is becoming the minimum. If you want to go into middle management, you have to have a master's."
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Most people pursue degrees beyond a bachelor's for job advancement. But they also get to study a specialized area of their major.
Graduate programs that overlap more than one area of study, such as history and science -- called interdisciplinary studies -- are growing in popularity and allow students to build their own major, said Steven Graham, associate director of the graduate school at California State University, Stanislaus. Graham just finished an interdisciplinary master's at Stanislaus State.
Student by night, UC Merced graduate diversity and retention coordinator by day, Cisneros said the university has 125 graduate students earning master's or doctorates in nine divisions, from physics and chemistry to social and cognitive sci- ences. The most popular program is biology.
Stanislaus State has about 1,700 graduate students, most of them pursuing master's degrees in education, social work and business administration, Graham said.
Turlock Police Department patrol officer Amy-Lee Beebe just completed her thesis for a master's in criminal justice. She said if Stanislaus State hadn't offered the degree, she probably wouldn't have gotten a master's at all.
"I've seen an expansion of more graduate degree programs," Graham said. "As the valley grows, the work force needs more skills."
As part of a push by the CSU system's 23 campuses to offer advanced degrees for nurses and educators, Stanislaus State will offer its first doctoral degree this fall in education.
Other colleges in the area offer master's and doctoral degrees. University of the Pacific in Stockton enrolls students in graduate programs in dentistry, school psychology, music therapy, law and pharmacy.
Many graduate programs are offered at nearby private colleges, including National University's Stockton campus, Chapman University's Modesto campus and University of Phoenix's Modesto location. Programs can be completed on campus or online.
Raishelle Owens thought about attending a private university to earn her master's, but decided to continue at Stanislaus State. Originally from Stockton, Owens said the Turlock campus can't be beat for low price and convenience.
"I was born and raised in Stockton. My family and the organizations I'm involved in are right here," she said.
"It's all about access. People have lived here all their lives and they haven't had access to this education or these programs."
For more information on graduate programs and degrees at Stanislaus State, UC Merced or University of the Pacific, respectively, visit:
Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2339.