NTC increases retention by challenging students

May 13th, 2011 | By | Category: 22-4: Honoring Student Success, Tribal College News

Navajo Technical College (NTC, Crownpoint, NM) has increased its overall retention rate to over 72% and its graduation rate to 80%, according to NTC Dean of Instruction Tom Davis. Asked what their secret was, he says, “We keep students excited. An excited student is more likely to stay in school.”

Created over 30 years ago by the Navajo Nation, the tribal college has several different ways to keep students excited including competitions, relevant research projects, digital manufacturing, internships and externships, and service learning.

The retention rate is calculated by how many students return (fall 2009 to fall 2010). To determine the graduation rate, the institution follows a cohort of students in particular programs from the time of entry for three years. NTC faces the same challenges that most tribal colleges face, including the fact that 80% of its incoming students have skill deficiencies and need remedial education in reading, writing, and/or math, according to Davis.

NTC students often win or place in national competitions, including Chocolate Fantasy for culinary students, Skills USA, Super Computing, and the annual American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) conference, which features contests in business, speech, hand games, film, writing, etc.

“We have undergraduate researchers doing really significant work,” Davis says. Students and instructors took a “visualization wall” that they created from scratch to the supercomputing conference where they put it back together under the eyes of some of the world’s top computer scientists. To construct it, the students tied a bunch of individual boxes together into a supercomputer with 20 screens, bigger than any visualization wall that exists in most countries of the world and bigger than a lot of major R1 universities, Davis says.

NTC doesn’t give students an easy ride to keep them in school. “We have a tough program,” says Davis. For example, the tribal college offers calculus 2, and it is required in some programs. Students in remedial classes are required to write frequent compositional papers. Faculty members tell students they have to study two hours for every hour in class. “The more you challenge Indian students, the more successful they tend to be. You have to tell them they are being successful at really difficult things,” he says.

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