Indian Students Respond to Scholarship System Stories in Unprecedented Numbers

A column by Dr. Dean Chavers in response to the response to his story about how not enough Native Americans are applying for scholarships.

When I wrote a column two months ago on scholarships and how few Indian students apply to them, I got a response that still floors me. So far, there have been over 780 comments to the online article from Indian Country Today Media Network.

That’s amazing to me. In 30 years of writing the column, “Around the Campfire,” I have never gotten more than 38 comments to any one column. Four years ago I did a column called “The Culture of Gallup” that generated the 38 comments. All of them agreed that Gallup is a frontier, racist town.

There have been many years that my column has generated no comments at all The 780-plus is no doubt due to the huge impact that ICTMN is having in Indian country.

Dwanna L. Robertson wrote the most thoughtful and cogent response. She said, rightly, that the process is difficult. As a person who wishes he had found scholarships as a senior in high school, I appreciate that comment. It was daunting to me. Even though I was valedictorian of our little high school, I had no idea how to find scholarships, and no idea how to win them.

Instead of going to college, I spent the next five months trying to find a job. It was Eisenhower days, and jobs were hard to find. I still remember how happy I was to report to work that first day.

It took me 11 years to finish my bachelor’s degree. Instead of finishing at 22, I finished at 29. I still wish someone had taken me by the hand and led me through the scholarship process. It was a colorful, but difficult 11 years—with five and a half of them spent in the military—including 17 months in Nam.

Dwanna is right; most scholarships go to people just out of high school. But Dr. Harriet Skye, Lakota, one of our students, finished her B.A. at the age of 62, continued to an M.A., and then on to a Ph.D. Delbert James, Navajo, finished his B.A. in social work at the age of 48, and is still working in his field. Mary Puthoff, Lakota, got her teaching credential and degree at the age of 55. Out of our 775 graduates, at least 100, possibly 200, were “nontraditional” or older students.

I never said Native American students were lazy or disinterested. I don’t blame the students at all. I have said that the schools are not doing much of anything to help prepare them for college. Out of 850 counselors on our mailing list, last year only 16 of them responded to our queries asking them to help Indian students get into college and find scholarships. That’s less than two percent. There’s something wrong with the system, folks.

She’s also right about the competitive nature of the scholarship process. I wish I could do something about it, but I know I can’t. Many of our Native students do not bloom in high school. They are 25 or 35 before they start to get serious about school. The dropout rate for Indian students in college is about 82 percent, and colleges are doing almost nothing to fix that, either.

I love the fact that we have a dialogue going. Most of the time, in the 26 years I have been running a scholarship program, I cannot get anyone to talk to me. Hello!