An Underrepresented, Struggling Minority in Higher Education

An Underrepresented, Struggling Minority in Higher Education
Susan Dutca-Lovell

Native American students lag behind their peers from a young age, across almost every measure of student success. From college enrollment, to test scores and on-time graduation, they have the lowest rates of any racial subgroup. They make up a mere 1 percent of the high school and college population and tend to be overlooked when it comes to discussion about the nation's achievement gap.

American Indian and Alaska Native Students have the highest drop-out rate - at 11.3 percent, which is nearly double the national average - the lowest graduation rate, are the least likely to enroll in college, and the second least likely to graduate on time. Native American tribal communities are not only small and young but also poor, with the median household income as low as $30,000 for some tribes. Stricken by poverty, joblessness, addiction, and abuse, they are "at the heart of the worst educational outcomes in the country."

Issues in Native Americans' education go back to the post-Civil War, when the U.S. government forced Native American children into boarding schools to make them more "civilized." Despite the White House's attempts to help by transferring more control over the schools to the tribes, they are "met with skepticism" because the government has "zero credibility with them. They see [the government] as the devil." Even with the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act, "longstanding gaps" between minority students and white students dissipated while the Native students stagnated; their ACT scores reached a five-year low.

Some successful students have cited Tribal colleges as their saving grace. Rather than attending at a mainstream institution and theorizing what it means to be Native American, they can go to tribal colleges and live it. Furthermore, they are surrounded by students from other tribes and are educated on the issues pervasive in tribal communities such as economic development, justice, and health care. Many Native American students hope to return to their communities and make a difference, as well as "build tribal capacity" and leadership for education reform.

Many colleges and universities actively seek and admit Native American students to their schools, cognizant of the disparity and achievement gap. Furthermore, they are generous in their funding through Native American scholarships.

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