Harder Reports on College Alumni SuccessFeb 15th, 2002 | By tcj | Category: 13-3: Sustaining Our Future, Tribal College News
Tribal college students supported not only themselves but also an average of 2.59 other people while they attended college. This is one of the findings of a report commissioned by the American Indian College Fund.
The study, “Redefining Success,” expands the conventional notion of post-college success to encompass not only economic success but also increased personal growth and tribal /community connection. There is little long-term information about tribal college alumni. Harder+Company Community Research of San Francisco, CA, conducted the study to understand the impact of the tribal college experience on tribal college students and the impact of the College Fund scholarships on those students. They used a mail-in survey and three focus groups, which were held at Northwest Indian College, Salish Kootenai College, and Oglala Lakota College. A total of 272 surveys were completed and returned.
The study found that the majority of respondents (74.8 percent) were first generation college students. They went to college for a number of reasons, but the most important was to make a better life for themselves and their families. The proximity of the college to their homes was also important.
More than one-third of the respondents dropped out of tribal college or stopped attending temporarily, usually because of financial problems and family obligations (raising children and caring for a sick or dying family member). They mentioned the lack of transportation and childcare as big challenges for them at the tribal colleges. Asked about dropping out or stopping out of mainstream colleges, they also mentioned feeling out of place and feeling different from other students. At the tribal colleges, however, they reported a cooperative and supportive learning environment. One student said, “I always visualize [those at mainstream colleges] with their elbows out, just fighting to get to be the front. But I always felt like we just put our arms around each other and went forward together.” The College Fund scholarships were very important to respondents, but they used other financial sources as well to finance their education.
Tribal colleges build the capacity of American Indians, according to the survey. Many of the respondents returned to their reservations to put their knowledge to work for the good of the tribe. The unemployment rate on reservations is often over 50 percent. Nevertheless, respondents typically worked full time. Their annual salaries, however, were less than the national average.
The College Fund plans to repeat the study. For more information about the 23-page Harder report, contact the College Fund at its Denver office (303) 426-8900 or visit the website <www.collegefund.org>.