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KC Wednesdays – Indigenous Students in Higher Education

by on April 11, 2012

Our next entry in our KC Wednesday series comes from Tara Leigh Sands, a Ph.D. student studying Higher Education at the University of Rochester, where she also works as a Graduate Assistant in Expectations for Excellence. Tara Leigh is the KC Rep from Region II for Indigenous Peoples.

There are over 500 Indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada, creating a diverse and unique Indigenous student population. However, there exists a lack of knowledge on this student population both in research and among student personnel administrators. This lack stems from unawareness as well as the little research published on this population in the main higher education journals with most of the research is found in Indigenous journals . What is known about Indigenous students in higher education within the United States and what are some of the misconceptions?

Indigenous students comprised roughly 1% of the college-going population and are the least likely to graduate (DeVoe, Darling-Churchill, & Snyder, 2008). Research on Indigenous students regarding their low persistence, points to institutions of higher education and staff being ill-prepared to recruit, admit, and encourage Indigenous retention (Guillory and Wolverton, 2008). This research shows a common misconception regarding financial aid and Indigenous students. Guillory and Wolverton (2008) found higher education staff and policymakers believe financial aid is the main contributor to Indigenous student persistence. However, Indigenous students’ state family is their main contributor to persistence while financial aid is a barrier to persistence (Guillory & Wolverton, 2008).  This misconception found between higher education professionals and Indigenous students leads to questions regarding policy and support.

Furthermore, Indigenous people are not simply another ethnic group, they have political status as members of sovereign nations which often is ignored (Deloria & Lytle, 1984; Gonzales, 2003). A broad policy that most PWIs can relate to is the underrepresented student support office that is designed to serve all underrepresented students regardless of cultural context. By treating Indigenous students at PWI’s as another group of color that can be serviced by a one-stop office, the PWI only recognizes one aspect of Indigeneity—race. The PWI ignores the political while Indigenous students define themselves according to tribal traditions in addition to federally defined terms (Garroutte, 2002).  This policy only recognizes the racial group of Indigenous students and does not consider the sovereign status. Without examination of the different needs and cultures of Indigenous students, a single support unit on campus could encourage isolation, however for smaller campuses this may be the only option.

Recognizing who Indigenous students are and the misconception regarding their enrollment on college campuses can only increase awareness and support for these students. While researchers are challenging the current lack, practitioners can learn about Indigenous students on their campus through reaching out, gaining knowledge from journals and peers, and providing needed support for these students.

References and Resources:

Deloria Jr., V., & Lytle, C. (1984). The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.

DeVoe, J. F., Darling-Churchill, K. E., & Snyder, T. D.  (2008).  Status and Trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008. National Center for Education Statistics, Institution of Education Sciences. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education.

Garroutte, E. M. (2003). Real Indians: Identity and the survival of Native America. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Gonzales, A. (2003). American Indians: Their Contemporary Reality and Future Trajectory. In D. L. Brown & L. E. Swanson (Eds.), Challenges for Rural America in the Twenty-First Century (pp. 43-56). University Park: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

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