Creating More Equity in Education

Published on Sep 24, 2020

Father works on school work with children in living room

As an educator who’s taught both graduate and undergraduate marketing classes, Assistant Professor Katie Mercurio understands how online degree programs can be the great equalizer for classroom discussions.

Katie Mercurio

“In my ‘offline’ classes, it'll be the same seven people talking,” said Mercurio, an assistant professor of marketing in Chico State’s Online MBA program, who has taught online classes in the past. “With online discussion boards, I finally get to hear from everyone. Sometimes it's the people who aren't raising their hands who are bringing up the best points of all. I just love it.”

Of course, online degrees offer more than the opportunity for faculty to hear from more students. From business to STEM programs, online graduate degrees are giving students a chance to advance their education when attending in-person classes is not an option. A 2018 survey found that more than 80 percent of online graduate students hold a full-time or part-time job, and roughly 50 percent have at least one child.1 Go to footnote The benefits of a remote program might be easy to label as a matter of convenience, but for those who need to balance their work and professional life, that flexibility is a requirement. However, finding the right online program can present its own challenges.

“I know that there's a lot of daytime, full-time MBA students who think that online is not as effective for learning as in-person,” she said. “I know a lot of professors who believe that too, but it's a mission of mine that it is equitable and the same.”

Before she came to Chico State, Mercurio realized how online programs can create more equity in education. While teaching full-time students at a previous institution, one of her friends enrolled in an online MBA program at a university she had never heard of. She knew taking classes online was the only option available to her friend, the sole income earner for his family. While he worked through the program, Mercurio found herself acting as a private tutor on the side, filling in important gaps she felt he wasn’t learning.

At the same time, she was teaching on-campus MBA classes. While many of her students were veterans, the majority of them were in their mid-twenties and Caucasian.

“I started to think very deeply,” said Mercurio. “I’m teaching these daytime MBAs, and who are these students? Who can come in and do this? What is their situation? They were getting these opportunities to advance their education, and I knew they were not representative of most of the population of this country.”

Supporting Diversity in Higher Education

This fall, Mercurio will be teaching the first course students take in Chico State’s Online MBA program, Seminar in Strategic Marketing. When the idea of an online degree program was first announced to the business school faculty, Mercurio wasted no time in volunteering to be a part of it.

“I kept thinking about wanting to serve people who have full-time jobs, who may be parents with children,” Mercurio said. “How can I give them this opportunity? An online MBA program was a passion of mine to reach first-gen students who wouldn't have these opportunities otherwise, and so that was so important to me and one of the reasons why I wanted to be involved in an online MBA program in the first place.”

More than 50 percent of Chico State students earning a four-year degree are first generation. It’s something that drew Mercurio to teach at the school two years ago, and it’s something that’s echoed in the on-campus MBA program. Mercurio hopes the online program will continue that tradition and introduce more diversity in higher education.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she heard directly from her students how quickly their lives changed and the challenges they were newly navigating. Some students struggled with unreliable internet access, others found that suddenly they needed to find a job after their parents’ lost theirs.

To help, Mercurio made sure to adapt to students’ situations. She plans to continue that with the online MBA program, including recording the classes and making them available for students who might be forced to miss the session.

It’s important to Mercurio to be understanding, because she knows the impact education can have on someone’s career.

“You are literally changing your socio-economic status by being here, you are going from one way of life to a totally different way of life just by virtue of getting an education, and there's so much power in that,” Mercurio said. “The same thing happens at an MBA level. You might be a low-level sales person, and by getting the MBA, you could go into upper management. It’s a huge leap, a change of life.”

Mercurio knows she can offer students the flexible online program they need to fit inside their work and personal life, while still offering them a learning experience equal to the robust education they would have in a classroom setting, especially thanks to tools like breakout rooms and Zoom polls.

“If they do the readings, if they engage with their team members, if they engage in the discussion boards, if they come into the zoom meetings, I think what they walk out with is going to be such a high quality education that I'm excited for them.”

Start Your Career Transformation

Choose an Online MBA that’s 100 percent online and AACSB accredited. At Chico State, students can choose a general pathway or one of two specializations, Enterprise Information Systems and Project Management, to build a strong foundation for their careers. Learn more about the MBA curriculum and career resources available to our online students.


  1. 1. Retrieved on August 24, 2020 from learninghouse.com/knowledge-center/research-reports/ocs2018
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