Indian Higher Ed Woes Blamed on Racism, Indifference

Students who attend schools on Native American reservations might not be getting the full information from their guidance counselors about all the opportunities available to them when pursuing college degrees. Dr. Dean Chavels, writing for the Indian Country Today, blames this information gap on racist attitude of the schools’ counselors and teachers and says this lack of guidance is responsible for the abysmal 50% high school drop-out rate among Native American students.

Also at issue is lack of time. Those occupying counselor positions in Native American schools frequently have to deal with so many other pressing issues such as attendance and lax discipline, they do not have the resources to also give students good advice on what to do with their post-high school lives and careers.

About 17% of Native American students go on to college after high school graduation, which, considering the fact that half of Indian students drop out of high school, means that less than 10% go to college at all. The rate of college attendance among the general population is more than 7 times that number. What’s worse, is that even of those who manage this hurdle and move on to an institution of higher education, more than 80% leave before earning a degree. And these alarming numbers have gotten worse over the previous forty years.

Indian schools are supposed to be producing blue-collar people, not white collar ones. Young idealistic teachers who come in with new-fangled ideas are sometimes run off the campuses. At the four Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) boarding high schools where I did my dissertation, all had some idealistic Anglo teachers who showed up right out of teacher colleges, eager to teach Indians. A few of them never came back when they went home to Iowa or South Carolina for Christmas. Out of 168 teachers that I interviewed on the four campuses (Chemawa, Stewart, Sherman, and Phoenix), no more than 30 were career people with BIA schools.

The same thing happened when I was at Bacone College. At least two of the new faculty went home from Oklahoma to New Jersey or Pennsylvania for Christmas, and we never heard from them again. We had to hire new people in the middle of the year.

Although top colleges like Harvard and Yale have lower drop-out rates for Native Americans, for most schools, between 60% and 90% of Indian students who end up enrolling leave before graduating.

Dr. Chavels believes that schools should do more to encourage Native American students onto the path towards a college degree.