American Indian College Fund to create data, research capacity

11/14/2020 04:00 PM
DENVER – Only 14.5% of American Indian and Alaska Natives age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher – less than half of the rate of the overall population, at 31.5%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The American Indian College Fund is embarking upon a $1 million, five-year research project called “American Indian and Alaska Native College Students: Building Collaborative Data Capacity for Assessing College Access, Persistence, and Graduation Success,” funded by The Spencer Foundation.

The project, in collaboration with three other national Native American scholarship-providing organizations, will create data capacity across organizations. Partner organizations are the American Indian Graduate Center, the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and Indigenous Education Inc., which administers The Cobell Scholarship.

The research project will explore ways to increase AIAN students’ access to and graduation from college as well as ways students interact with institutions once they are in college.

The four scholarship-providing organizations will build a shared database, which will combine the number of students served across organizations to provide a larger sample when conducting qualitative and quantitative research. The database will also enable comparisons across the group of students served collectively, said David Sanders, vice president of research at the College Fund, which will direct the program. The project provides the opportunity to work with consultants to develop an institutional assessment, allowing post-secondary institutions to measure the success of their efforts to serve AIAN students.

The College Fund started college affordability research a year ago with a grant from the Lumina Foundation. That work established research norms with other scholarship-providing organizations member organizations, creating the opportunity to extend the work.

The result will be a larger AIAN student research agenda while meeting research needs for AIAN post-secondary students. The project will also use research results to ensure that non-tribal colleges and universities are held accountable for how they serve their communities.

Native students are a significant and unique population underserved by higher
education, distinguished from other racial/ethnic student populations by their tribal nation citizenship within the United States. The combination of both racial identity and tribal citizenship status complicates the relationships and experiences AIAN students have with higher education.

“The real power of this project is that by working across organizations, we will gather data that will allow us to establish a broad Native American research agenda. We are looking forward to how we grow this initiative to do research with AIAN communities in the future, and to partner with other organizations while allowing them to ask the kinds of questions they want to ask (and answer) for the benefit of their organizations and Indian Education in general,” Sanders said.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, College Fund president and CEO, said, “The College Fund is excited to work with our colleagues in the Indigenous higher education scholarship world as we address the critical gap in data about Native students in higher education. Through the support of the Spencer Foundation, we are able to not only fill that data gap, we are able to provide guidance and resources to all of higher education so institutions can create safe and welcoming environments for Indigenous students.”

The College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 31 years. It has provided $9.25 million in scholarships to American Indian students in 2019-20, with scholarships, program and community support totaling over $237 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports various academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers.

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