Smithsonian Looks to CA Community College for Latino Talent

Suzanne Potter | California News Service
Nationally, about a quarter of Latinos earn an associate's degree or higher, compared with about half of Whites. Photo Credit: Steven Aguilar / Unsplash

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The Smithsonian Institution in Washington is working to recruit a new generation of Latino docents and curators, so they can help tell their community’s stories. The museum will open its new Molina Family Latino Gallery next year.

Smithsonian Latino Center executive director Eduardo Diaz said he recruits interns where he knows he can find a high percentage of Latino art history majors: at the Vincent Price Museum at East Los Angeles College.

“We know that the majority of Latinos and Latinas who are enrolled in post-secondary education are enrolled at community colleges, not four-year institutions,” he said.

The Smithsonian’s outreach is part of a larger effort to narrow the education gap after high school for Latinos in the United States. Right now, only 27% of Latinos ages 25 to 54 have earned a credential, an associate’s degree or higher, compared with 51.3% of Americans overall.

Latinos make up 13% of the U.S. population — and one in four school children. Paola Santana, strategy officer for state policy at the nonprofit Lumina Foundation, said its success is crucial to the country’s progress, which means encouraging career training and education beyond high school.

“Those attainment gaps really have to be eradicated in order for us to reach our goals of racial justice and equity,” she said.

Lumina Foundation funds projects around the country to remove roadblocks to students’ potential — including supports such as child care and transportation. Other programs seek out Latino students and connect them to jobs or higher-ed opportunities.

Amber Garrison Duncan, Lumina’s strategy director, said a supportive campus culture and strong counseling programs are key.

“We want to make sure that people have access to the right pathway at the right time to gain the right credential they need to unlock their economic mobility,” she said.

In 2008, Lumina Foundation set a goal that 60% of Americans of all age groups will hold a certificate, a degree or high-quality credential by 2025. The foundation tracks post-high-school attainment through its
“Stronger Nation” data tool on the Lumina website.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.