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Cal State San Marcos and Santa Ysabel Indians forge promising partnership

By David Garrick -- North County Times

SANTA YSABEL, Calif. - Cal State San Marcos and the Santa Ysabel Indians forged a landmark agreement Jan. 24 that aims to increase the number of young American Indians attending college.

The university is the first in the 23-campus California State University system to forge such a partnership with an American Indian tribe, and university officials said they hope the agreement will serve as a model for other universities and tribes to follow.

''We're excited to be the first CSU to establish a formal memorandum of understanding with one of its neighboring tribes, and I hope we will not be the last,'' said Karen Haynes, president of the San Marcos campus. ''We also hope this agreement will prompt other local tribes to think about formalizing their expectations of student access and success with us.''

The agreement, which was signed Jan. 24 on the Santa Ysabel Reservation by Haynes and tribal Chairman Johnny Hernandez, calls for the university and the tribe to cooperate on new efforts to send more Santa Ysabel students to the university.

Such efforts have become a priority because American Indians have the lowest high school graduation rates and college attendance rates of any major ethnic group in California.

High school graduation rates for American Indians are less than 52 percent in California, compared with 71 percent overall in the state. Less than 11.5 percent of American Indians age 25 or older have a bachelor's degree, compared with 24 percent of Californians in that age group.

The partnership will include new programs to improve college preparation and recruiting on the reservation, which is east of Julian in southern California. On the university campus, efforts to retain American Indian students will get a boost.

Joint efforts will include university-sponsored educational and recruiting workshops on the reservation, an educational-needs assessment of the tribe's 900 members and creation of a system to track the educational progress of tribe members.

On its own, the university will compile student enrollment and graduation rates for tribe members, create a data table for attrition rates among tribal students and put university admissions information in the tribe's educational facilities.

The tribe has agreed to determine the educational and training needs of its members and provide resources to help the university boost its presence on the reservation.

''Our leadership has begun to put more focus on education,'' said Brandie Taylor, vice chairman of the tribe. ''It's difficult for our students to live in two worlds. They must study for their exams, yet attend traditional gatherings on the reservations.''

Taylor said her tribe hopes the new partnership will yield amazing results, in both the short and long term.

''We hope these students will return to the reservation and help in business, medicine, law and preserving the environment,'' she said.

About 1 percent of the 8,000 students at the San Marcos campus are American Indians, a ratio that has been slowly and steadily increasing in recent years. The university has 84 American Indian students this school year, up from 68 in 2005 - '06.

Previously, the number of American Indian students at the university had climbed slowly, from 47 in 1994 - '95 up to 59 in 2004 - '05, according to Matt Ceppi, the university's director of institutional planning and analysis.

The university has dramatically increased its outreach efforts with American Indian groups since Haynes arrived on campus in January 2004, according to Bonnie Biggs, who was appointed the university's tribal communities liaison that year.

The university created a tribal liaisons task force in fall 2004 and established a Native American Advisory Council in October 2005. Also, university officials plan to create a new institute on campus focused on American Indian cultural sovereignty and sustainability, Biggs said.

''We want to create more of a sense that the university is a place for Native students,'' she said. ''I believe we have a moral obligation to reach out to these communities.''

The most significant element of the partnership, according to Biggs, will be helping American Indians on the reservation realize that college is a possibility for them.

''We will help them navigate the complicated academic mire,'' she said. ''Students who will be the first in their family to attend college typically struggle with the process of admission and financial aid.''

Biggs said she hopes the agreement, which is patterned after a partnership between New Mexico State University and a nearby tribe, will set the tone for agreements between the university and other local tribes.

The other tribes within the service area of the university are Pechanga, Rincon, Pala, Pauma, San Pasqual, La Jolla and Mesa Grande.

Biggs and Taylor said they also expect the new agreement to improve relations with the school districts in Julian and Warner Springs, which serve the reservation.

Copyright (c) 2007, North County Times, Escondido, Calif. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.