De-Mystifying College for Native Students

NRC’s American Indian Education Foundation scholarship focuses on funding non-traditional students. Many of our applicants received their GED rather than a high school diploma, are re-entry students, represent the first of their family to ever apply to college, or have other characteristics that are considered “non-traditional.”

The number of college students that fit the traditional student model – going straight from high school to college and having school as their primary responsibility – has decreased steadily over the last two decades. Three-fourths of today’s students no longer fit that traditional model. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, 49% of students are enrolled part-time, 38% work full time, 34% are over the age of 30, and 27% have dependents of their own.

A number of factors have influenced this shift in the “typical” college student. Changing job requirements and changes in the economy have prompted adults to get additional education to survive in the job market.  Many are re-entry students who dropped out of education for a number of reasons, including financial considerations, competing responsibilities, and lack of maturity or readiness. Often students return to college after a family life transition such as marriage, divorce, or the death of a family member.

The percentage of Native American students who fit the “typical” student model has always been very low.  In addition to the barriers all young people experience when planning their future, many Native students face additional barriers:

  •  A lack of role models who have attended college and can help the students view higher education as a possibility in their own lives
  • A high rate of drop out from secondary school
  • High rates of poverty that demand youth must begin work as soon as they can to help support their families
  • Being poor, which may cause students to assume school is unaffordable
  • The general lack of opportunities in remote reservation communities, which may limit a young person’s ability to envision a different future for themselves

Fortunately, Native students today are entering college at higher rates than ever before. This is terrific. These non-traditional students are older, have had a lot of diverse life experiences, have often raised kids (and in many cases grandkids), might be veterans, and are better able to view education as a possibility. Distance learning campuses and a growing number of colleges on or near reservations has also helped increase Native college enrollment. This is increasing the number of role models available to young people and de-mystifying the college-going experience for them.

NRC believes that education is important to long-term social change. We understand the value that non-traditional students bring to the schools they attend and the importance of their college-going experience to their families and communities. We seek out these students when we recruit for our scholarship. NRC recruits from GED programs, job training programs, treatment centers, correctional facilities AND high schools. One of the most important factors we look for in the students we fund is a history of overcoming obstacles. Our non-traditional students generally have a lot of experience with overcoming and have gotten clear about the area of study that best suits them and what they want to contribute to their families and communities.  

We are so excited to support these non-traditional change makers! If you are one of them, please be sure to apply for our AIEF scholarship this month!

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