Pioneers on the Pathway to the Professoriate: How the B.A. in Latin American Studies best prepares Latino/as and HSI students to pursue humanities Ph.D.s

Andrew Millin

Andrew Millin

In anticipation of the rapidly diversifying young population, an increasing number of education initiatives seek to increase the percentage of Latino/a students from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) who seek to become humanities professors. While Latino/as in the U.S. make up 4.1% of the professoriate and 6.1% of humanities Ph.D.s, they make up 20% of adults aged 18-44, and 62% (1.75 million) of these undergraduates are enrolled in HSIs. The National Endowment for the Humanities is taking action to modify Ph.D.s to prepare students for careers in business, government, and non-profits. Dr. Marybeth Gasman, Director of the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania, announced in 2016 that she received a $5.1 million grant to launch “Pathways to the Professoriate.” Gasman constructed this initiative with the goal to increase Latino/a humanities professors at U.S. institutions. As part of the initiative, 90 students from Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) will prepare for and enter Ph.D. programs over five years.

Due to the culturally relevant and interdisciplinary nature of a Latin American Studies major, Latino HSI scholars who receive a bachelor’s with this major would have the transferable skills to research, acquire foreign languages, and teach within a humanities Ph.D. program.

Why pursue a Ph.D. in Latin American History? Compared to a Ph.D. in European History, there may be at least one position per graduate, versus positions for only a handful.

Program requirements and student learning outcomes from California State University Northridge’s B.A. in Central American Studies can increase overall demand toward humanities. 86% of students spent at least six hours per week preparing for their classes, and 18% of these students worked on a research project with a faculty member. With their interests, building on the advisement from faculty, Latino/as and HSI students will succeed in identifying faculty mentors when applying to Ph.D.s, and constructing dissertations. There is also a trend toward team-based inquiry in the development of research skills. Within the major there are required survey courses, fieldwork, and seminars. Coupled with qualitative skills, awareness of historical development complexities, and understanding of transnational communities, these students will have both the professional development and training to minimize bias in their field research.

Acquisition skills are not just skills that humanities Ph.D. students will develop by the end of their studies; they are employer expectations. Employers will seek cognitive skills such as communication and analytics from job applicants rather than physical skills.

With study abroad opportunities, and faculty who have expertise in human rights debates, Latino students have available opportunities to minister across cultural and linguistic divisions. New York University B.A. in Latin American Studies students must demonstrate fluency in Spanish, Portuguese, or Quechua. For many humanities Ph.D. programs, students will be required to demonstrate proficiency in two foreign languages. It is projected that only 37% of Latinos will complete Ph.D.s in Humanities, versus 46% of Asian Americans, 51% of Whites, and 52% of African Americans over ten years.

Foreign language preparation is not the only hallmark of advanced preparation the Latin American Studies major will provide. NYU also offers an accelerated B.A./M.A. in Latin American and Caribbean Studies with a 50% discount on graduate tuition. With the discounted tuition comes an extra year of engaging with faculty. Research has shown that 1) students of color will better persist toward degree completion with faculty of color as role models and 2) Latino/a faculty members are more likely to produce scholarship relevant to Latino/a communities and individuals. Faculty will not only help these students persevere toward the Ph.D. They will be vital in helping these students communicate to their communities the mobility and relevance a college degree can provide. HSIs have proven determined and effective in producing motivated Ph.D. candidates.

Whether serving as a teaching assistant or as an instructor, in some capacity students pursuing Ph.D.s in humanities will be teaching and building relationships with undergraduates and graduates. The major not only qualifies students to excel as TAs in the U.S. From the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, graduates were reported to be Fulbright Teaching Assistants in Brazil and Argentina, and salaries for students knowing multiple foreign languages were 20% higher.

The demand for TAs who address the developmental needs of Hispanics caused the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities to propose a $20 million grant to address these deficits. The B.A. in Latin American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley specifically prepares students to teach foreign languages and social sciences.

It is implied that in teaching a subject that there is background in it. Students will be prepared to enter, teach, and engage students within multiple programs. Latino/a students attending predominantly white institutions (PWIs) and HSIs had similar scores on the National Survey of Student Engagement in terms of satisfaction with college and gains in overall development. This speaks to the increasing quality of both PWIs and HSIs in producing students who take initiative to inspire social change. Students at UC Berkeley can focus their four upper division electives on central themes such as gender and society. The curriculum structure enables students to develop research interests and engage what they want to study.

The B.A. in Latin American Studies will continue to produce expert scholars who inspire new findings and students in the humanities.

Andrew Millin holds his M.S.Ed. in Higher Education from the University of Pennsylvania.  He serves as the Program Coordinator of the Medical Office Assistant Certificate of Proficiency and volunteers with the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship at Mercer County Community College in West Windsor, NJ.  He is an active member of NACADA:  The Global Community for Academic Advising, and will be serving as the Selection Chair on the 2018 Region 2 Conference Committee.  His research interests include applying theory to practice in academic advising, ethics in transfer credit evaluation, and interpersonal communication and relationships between faculty and administrators in higher education.