Native American college attendance, graduation rates drop

02/05/2019 04:00 PM
TAHLEQUAH – Studies show that rates for Native Americans attending and graduating from college are dropping.

Helen Oliff, of Partnerships of Native Americans, said while 28 percent of Americans have completed college, only 13 percent of Native Americans hold degrees.

“From elementary to post-secondary school, 35 percent of Native youth grow up in impoverishment,” Oliff said. “Life without a college degree can often mean hardship and lost opportunity. Four-year college grads earn $1 million more in a lifetime, and two-year college grads earn $10,000 more per year than someone who only graduates high school.”

According to The Postsecondary National Policy Institute, the national average of college graduation from a public four-year institution within four years is 19 percent. The national average increases to 35 percent when the years it takes to graduate a four-year institution hits six.

College enrollment for Native Americans ages 18 to 24 fell between 2015-16 and 2016-17, according to the PNPI. It also states the higher education participation rate for Native Americans fell from 23 percent in 2015-16 to 19 percent 2016-17. In 2000, 30 percent of Native Americans between the ages of 25 and 29 acquired at least an associate’s or bachelor’s degree. In 2017, that percentage fell to 27 percent, according to the PNPI.

Despite these daunting trends, there are resources that can help the Native American attendance and graduation rates increase.

The Cherokee Nation and Cherokee Nation Foundation have scholarships that helps Cherokee high school seniors get into college and keep student debt down. Most of these scholarships require students to maintain a 3.0 GPA. Cherokee high school seniors can visit the College Resources Center at the CN Tribal Complex for help with scholarships.

The American Indian Graduate Center and American Indian College Fund both contribute scholarships to the Native American community. Scholarships awarded by these organizations range from easily obtainable scholarships to prestigious scholarships. Their efforts are to help Native American high school students seek higher education in both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

The AIGC is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the AICF is in Denver.

Northeastern State University has been helping Native American students stay in college through a federally funded five-year Native American Serving Nontribal Institutions grant that helped create the Native American Support Center. In this program, Native students can find tutors to help with homework, talk to advisors to set up classes and get help to de-stress in times of need.

“Not all Native students know we exist on campus. We always do our best to reach those who identify as Native American,” NASC Director Shelly Dreadfulwater said. “The total percentage of (NSU) Native student enrollment increased between the fall of 2017-18 from 35 percent to 37 percent, which equated to approximately 100 students more. Our main goal at NSU is to keep this trend going by focusing on the retention and graduation rates of our Native students.”

NSU, located in the CN capital of Tahlequah, does everything it can to accommodate Cherokee students and students from other tribes to help them get through the culture shock of being away from home. Helping them embrace Native culture at NSU and providing Native mentors are two of the ways NSU helps these students.

For more information about Cherokee scholarships, visit
or For more information about AIGC or AIEF, visit


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