College is a Realistic and Necessary Goal for Native Youth

Kelly H. graduated college and teaches on her home reservation, Navajo.

Kelly H. graduated college and teaches on her home reservation, Navajo.

In the midst of the hot, long summer days when children are free from classrooms, school is often the last thing on everyone’s minds. And unfortunately, that thinking can bleed into the school year, as many youth do not see postsecondary education (or college) as a realistic goal. Seemingly, nor should they, based on the raw numbers alone.

Bryan McKinley Jones Brayboy, co-director of the Pueblo Indian doctoral-training project (spearheaded by Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation and Santa Fe Indian School’s Leadership Institute), said in an Arizona Republic article that “of 100 Alaskan or Native Americans who start ninth grade, 48 will graduate from high school, 20 will go on to postsecondary education, and only one will finish a bachelor’s degree within six years of starting. One in 2,500 Natives earns a master’s degree, and one in 7,000 earns a Ph.D.” In another report by the U.S. Census and based on 2006-2010 data, 13 percent of Native Americans hold bachelor’s degrees.

But, things are starting to change, thanks to programs like the Pueblo Indian doctoral-training project that graduated a cohort of 10 Ph.D. students at Arizona State University in May; this is believed to be one of the largest groups of Native Americans to earn doctorates at the same time and place.

Aaron S. graduated college and pursued his Master's in physical therapy.

Aaron S. graduated college and pursued his Master’s in physical therapy.

The new reality is that postsecondary education is not only attainable but supported by Native communities and partners. To help end the cycle of poverty through education, our organization offers scholarships, college grants, emergency funding, college readiness camps, and literacy and school supplies through the AIEF program for American Indians.

Vaughn V., a student at South Dakota School of Mines and Technology (SDSMT), working to complete a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering, recently received an AIEF scholarship. He shared, “I did not see myself as an engineer growing up. I had no interest in doing math and science. I didn’t see the value in it.”  When he discovered Industrial Engineering held the greatest opportunities for him, he changed his major. Vaughn explains, “Engineering was the best route, but I wasn’t prepared for math and science. I gave up so many times, but I was persistent. And here I am taking Calculus 3 and going onto Differential Equations.”

Vaughn is one of 210 Native American students awarded scholarships through the AIEF program in 2014, which granted a total of $349,000 to students from 22 tribes. “My motivation is helping my community; there’s a lot we can do,” says Vaughn. “I’m really excited to make some of the changes happen.”

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