Thanks to a $2 million grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, obtaining a degree in humanities from Central New Mexico Community College or the University of New Mexico just got a little easier.

The grant — which will be awarded over a three year period — provides $1.2 million for UNM and $800,000 for CNM in order to increase the number of humanities graduates in New Mexico.

“Building Humanities Pathways: A CNM and UNM Partnership for Innovation and Success” is an initiative that will focus on a number of programs designed to facilitate the transfer of students between the two institutions, improve degree completion rates and emphasize the importance of an education in the humanities in an increasingly globalized and STEM-focused economy, according to the grant proposal.

The humanities cover a broad spectrum of disciplines, including: art, languages, literature, music, philosophy and religion.

Dr. Irene Vasquez, the department chair of Chicana and Chicano Studies at UNM and project investigator for the grant, underscored the value of the multiple disciplines that make up the field.

“We know that the humanities are an approach to understanding the world that emphasizes diversity and understanding human society through narratives,” Vasquez said. “The humanities (are) important in terms of instilling critical thinking and cross-cultural understanding, and in our society today, I think there is a great need for understanding human complexity and diversity.”

According to the grant proposal, education, business and other industry leaders have focused on hiring employees with skill sets derived from a humanities based education, which include: creative problem solving, analyzing and interpreting texts and data and communication.

Increasing the success rate of humanities students transferring from CNM to UNM will play a large part in the use of the funds. As reported by the Digest of Education Statistics, 80 percent of community college students in the U.S. intend to transfer to a baccalaureate institution, yet only 33 percent eventually do. The Mellon Foundation aims to increase that number and recognizes that New Mexico has unique challenges presented by a diverse population, Vasquez said.

“The other thing (the Mellon Foundation) is looking at is diversifying the student population that pursues the study of humanities,” she said. “We’re talking about, on the one hand, increasing degree completion rates for working class, underrepresented, and historically underserved student populations, but also exposing students to areas in the humanities that they haven’t been exposed to previously.”

New Mexico ranks among the bottom five states for low-income transfer students earning bachelor’s degrees within six years, according to the Hechinger Report.

The expected outcomes for the CNM/UNM Humanities Pathways Initiative will include increasing the number of students entering CNM and declaring humanities majors, creating clear transfer pathways to UNM, and improving institutional structure and cohesion between the two in regards to course syllabi and instruction.

Vasquez also stated the Mellon Foundation has a history of investing in New Mexico, emphasizing the diversity of the state as an asset. “The fact that it’s a majority-minority state is appealing to them,” she said. “They understand that our students — if they’re to pursue a college education — (they) need supplemental support to be able to engage at the highest level, particularly working class and underrepresented students.”

The Andrew M. Mellon Foundation, a nonprofit corporation named after the American business magnate, was formed in 1969 as a result of the merger of two philanthropy groups founded by his children. Their mission, according to their website, is to “strengthen, promote, and, where necessary, defend the contributions of the humanities and the arts to human flourishing and to the well-being of diverse and democratic societies.”

The foundation had an approximate endowment of $6.8 billion at the end of 2017.

Andrew Gunn is a freelance reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at or on Twitter @agunnwrites.