SIDEBAR: Patterns Among American Indian Undergraduates

Data on American Indians in higher education may be unreliable because of students who change their declarations of race/ethnicity after they matriculate. [8] About half of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program respondents who identified themselves as American Indians or Alaskan Natives as first-time students switched their ethnic/racial designation to white, non-Hispanic 4 years later (Pavel and Dey research in progress); however, "those who maintained Indian and Native identity had higher grade point averages and were much more likely to receive a degree than those who 'switched'" (Pavel et al. 1995, p. 44).

Of the nearly 122,000 American Indian undergraduates in 1993, 58 percent were women. Some 63,000 went to 2-year colleges; some 59,000, to 4-year-and-beyond institutions. Their dropout rate is high-9 percent of American Indians studying for baccalaureates earned degrees compared with 24 percent of whites and 33 percent of Asians (The High School and Beyond Senior Cohort Study (1980-1988), cited in Wells 1989).

About 14,000 of the American Indians in 2-year institutions enrolled in the tribal colleges that became possible in 1978 with the passage of the Tribally Controlled Community College Act. Nearly all tribal colleges and universities are located near tribal lands, and nearly all are community colleges or technical schools; however, three offer baccalaureate degrees and two, master's degrees. Although each tribal institution is unique, they share certain characteristics:

Most are governed by boards composed entirely or primarily of American Indians and Alaska Natives; have student bodies that are predominantly American Indian and Alaska Native, and are located in isolated areas. . . A primary mission is to reinforce and transmit traditional cultures. All of the institutions offer a practical curriculum geared to contemporary, local needs and are community-service oriented (Pavel et al. 1995, p. 51).

Tribal college graduates earn a mean income of $18,000, much higher than that of the majority of American Indians. About 34 percent of students in tribal colleges eventually transfer to baccalaureate institutions, a number of which offer programs aimed particularly to serve American Indians.


[8] High school and college counselors often encourage applicants to identify themselves as American Indians or Alaskan Natives to increase chances for admission or scholarships (Pavel et al. 1995).


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