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New Program Seeks to Guide More Latinos to Ph.D.s

A new partnership at eight U.S. colleges and universities is hoping to boost the number of Latinos with doctorates and, in turn, increase the pool of Latino faculty in the humanities. 

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With the help of a $5.1 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania has launched Pathways to the Professoriate, which will prepare 90 students at Hispanic-serving institutions for doctoral programs over a five-year period.

“This program comes as colleges and universities across the United States are trying, and often struggling, to develop a faculty that reflects the nation’s growing ethnic and cultural diversity,” the university said in a news release Tuesday. ”The scarcity of Latino professors is especially stark, as Latinos make up only 4.1 percent of the professoriate in the United States but 20 percent of the population aged 18-44.”

Delece Smith-Barrow of U.S. News & World Report writes that undergraduate students selected for the Pathways to the Professoriate program will be paired with mentors and receive help preparing for the GRE and writing personal statements, as well as stipends and other social and academic supports. The first cohort of students will be selected in the fall.

According to a 2015 report by Washington, D.C.-based Excelencia in Education, just 5 percent of doctoral degree earners in 2011-12 were Latino. And while the number of Latinos with a doctorate grew 67 percent between 2002 and 2013, less than 1 percent of Latino adults had earned the advanced degrees, compared to 4 percent of Asian, 2 percent of white and 1 percent of African-American adults. The same report showed that of the 4 percent of faculty in higher education who are Latino, the majority were not full-time.

That so few faculty are Latino is a “critical issue,” Excelencia’s chief operating officer and vice president for policy, Deborah Santiagotold U.S. News. Latino college-goers — 40 percent of whom are first-generation college students — “don’t see a lot of Latino faculty, and don’t have them as professors when they go to college. So they don’t see it as a viable option. They don’t have role models to show them it’s possible,” she said.

Marybeth Gasman, director of the Center on Minority Serving Institutions, said the program is focusing on the humanities because there’s not been as much emphasis on this field, compared to STEM (science, technology, engineering and math). “And the thing about the humanities is that they’re what teaches us to think critically. They’re what pushes us to see the humanity in the world.”

Among the universities participating in Pathways to the Professoriate are Florida International University and The University of Texas at El Paso, which enroll the third and ninth largest Latino populations of any Hispanic-serving institutions, respectively.