Building pathways for Native students


SEATTLE – Washington’s colleges and universities have made progress in building pathways to post-secondary education for American Indians and Alaska Natives.

A comprehensive report – the collaboration of two tribal colleges and three non-tribal colleges – identifies ways to ensure Native students succeed once they get there.

Pathways for Native Students: A Report on Washington State Colleges and Universities” is the subject of a conference Feb. 17 – 18 in the Doubletree SeaTac Hotel in Seattle. Participants will learn what more than 40 Washington colleges and universities are doing to help Native college students complete their degrees.

The report was authored by Kayeri Akweks and Loretta Seppanen of the Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges, Nadine Bill of Northwest Indian College, and Barbara Leigh Smith of The Evergreen State College.

Bill, Upper Skagit/Choctaw, is director of institutional research at Northwest Indian College. She said colleges and universities must put as much attention on graduation as they do access, and said the report is a sort of “best practices” guide.

“Access without success is not access,” Bill said. “Access is one part of the puzzle. Success is another whole aspect of it.”

Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of Northwest Indian College, said, “Recommendations contained in the report result from the extensive study process that contributed to the report’s development with over 40 institutions in the State of Washington participating.

“This report is an important and major contribution to the discussion of Indian education in the State of Washington and is a natural companion to all the work underway in early childhood and K-12 education.”

The report follows significant efforts undertaken this decade to improve the achievement of Native high school students and prepare them for postsecondary education.

The state Legislature has commissioned studies on the K-12 achievement gap among underrepresented populations. Public schools are required to teach Native culture and history, which ensures curricula is culturally relevant and supportive of positive Native identity. Most tribal governments offer scholarships to college-bound high school graduates. A residential youth academy next to Lummi High School prepares students for college by providing a nurturing home environment where students receive homework assistance, fitness and wellness activities, mental health counseling, and nutrition education.

But the tide is far from turned: Some 12 percent of Native high school seniors, and 12.6 percent of Native high school juniors, dropped out in 2004-05, the last year for which data is available. That’s more than twice the rate of students in general. And 48 percent of Native students graduated from high school on time in 2005-06, compared to 70.4 percent for all other students.

The number of Native high school students who go directly to college dropped from 52 percent in 1998 to 37.8 percent in 2003. While there has been an increase in the number of post-high-school-age Native adults enrolling in colleges, most of those are in two-year colleges and rates of graduation lag other groups.

“The benefits of a college degree – from higher salaries to increased life options – are becoming more evident in today’s knowledge economy,” the report summary states. “… it is clear that whole system improvements are necessary to help Native students successfully earn a postsecondary degree.”

Among the recommendations:

  • Foster collaboration among Washington’s educational institutions and Native communities to create “shared solutions” and develop “seamless, student-centered programs” across the K-12 and postsecondary systems.
  • View investment in the postsecondary needs of rural and reservation populations as investment in the state’s economic development. “More information is needed on the educational needs of urban Indians,” the report states. “Education is community development, and it is economic development.”

  • Institutions must listen and pay attention to the needs of Native students and Native communities. “Institutions are increasingly turning to surveys, regular meetings and listening sessions with tribal communities as a way of creating mutual understanding,” the report states.

  • Build collaboration between K-12, two-year and four-year colleges “to identify barriers and forge solutions. … (and) encourage more students to take advantage of educational opportunities at all levels of the education system.”

  • Improve student success in “gateway” courses, such as English and math. Encourage more students to take advantage of educational opportunities (prep-college programs, scholarships, etc) at all levels of the education system. Develop programs to encourage adult students to return to college.

  • Find solutions to financial barriers to college that remain significant for many Native students. Students can finish two years of college while in high school through early-college and dual-enrollment programs like Running Start.

  • Continue diversifying faculty and staff. “Some colleges and universities have been successful in recruiting and retaining Native faculty and staff. This successful work needs to go much further.”

  • Maintain a long-term focus on Native student success. And continue to improve – and share – what works.

At the conference, participants will discuss “Generational Resilience: Strategies for Reproducing Success in Native College Students;” “Addressing the Trouble Spots: The Developmental Education Challenge;” and “Using Native Cases to Promote Student Learning.”

Speakers and presenters include:

  • Vivian Arviso, Navajo, former Navajo Nation education director and current director of a curriculum project for fourth- through sixth- grade Navajo students.
  • David Cournoyer, Rosebud Sioux, director of resource and fund development for Native Americans in Philanthropy, a nonprofit organization that seeks to build bridges between funders and Native communities.

  • Philip S. (Sam) Deloria, Standing Rock Sioux, director of the American Indian Graduate Center.

  • Cassandra Manuelito-Kerkvliet, Navajo, president of Antioch University Seattle and the first American Indian woman president of an accredited university outside the tribal college system. She is the great-great-granddaughter of Navajo leader Manuelito.

Major sponsors of the conference are the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and the Lumina Foundation for Education. Other conference sponsors include universities, the Governor’s Office of Indian Affairs, the state Board for Community and Technical Colleges, and the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction’s Indian Education Office.

Richard Walker is a correspondent reporting from San Juan Island, Wash. Contact him at

Colleges, universities create sense of place for Native students

In 2005, 13 percent of the Native population age 25 and older in Washington state had bachelor’s degrees, compared with 23 percent of the non-Native population. That gap could narrow. The state Higher Education Coordinating Board wants Washington to be, by 2015, among the top 10 states in achieving parity for under-represented minority students and for students in poverty who access higher education. The board wants Washington to be, by 2020, among the top 10 states in achieving parity in these groups in two- and four-year degree completion. Today, there are about 7,500 Native students in Washington state’s colleges and universities. Washington colleges and universities are working hard to create effective programs to encourage Native high school graduates to attend college and earn degrees. Here are some of things they are doing:

Consulting and engaging tribal communities. Providing connections to family and culture.

Supporting positive Native identity.

Finding Native mentors and role models in the faculty, staff and student body.

Providing comprehensive, integrated student support services.

Using culturally relevant curriculum and teaching.

Tailoring programs to fit student schedules and other needs.

Creating a sense of place for Native students. Examples: Evergreen State College’s Longhouse Education and Cultural Center; Peninsula College’s Longhouse House of Learning; and Centralia College’s Diversity Clock Tower.