Enrollment and Graduation Rates
Higher education is among the fields where racial disparities are most evident. This is mainly because higher education in the United States is optional, and thus there are many factors that affect students’ willingness and ability to enroll and graduate. Native American students are at a disadvantage in the U.S. higher education context. According to recent studies, the overall number of students enrolled in postsecondary education in the United States was 19.8 million in 2017 (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019).
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Most of these students were enrolled in undergraduate-level programs (16.8 million), whereas 3 million were enrolled in post-baccalaureate education (NCES, 2019). Students of color remain a minority in higher education, and Native American students are the smallest group. The data from NCES (2019), show that in 2017, 19% of students enrolled in higher education were Hispanic, 14% were black, and only 0.7% were American Indian or Alaska Natives. Hence, Native Americans are the smallest student population in the United States.
The low total population of Native American people in the U.S. only partly explains these disparities. A much more obvious explanation is the low level of transition from school to postsecondary education. According to Adelman, Taylor, and Nelson (2013), Native American students are less likely to leave school with a diploma than other groups, with about 30% of students not obtaining a secondary education diploma. Out of those students who have graduated from school successfully, 30 percent of students did not pursue any form of higher education at all, which is higher than the rate observed in other groups (Adelman et al., 2013). Based on statistical data, it is evident that poor rates of school graduation and academic progression influence Native Americans’ enrollment in higher education significantly.
Still, students who continue to postsecondary education face challenges on their way to graduation, which impacts Native American students’ graduation rates. Adelman et al. (2013) explain that “with respect to Native Americans who go on to postsecondary education, only about half of those who enroll in major colleges and universities survive the first year as compared to almost 70 percent of the general population” (p. 31).
This means that about half of Native American students drop out of college in the first year. The NCES (2019) also notes that, for the 2011 cohort, the 6-year graduation rate for Bachelor’s degree programs was 74% for Asian students, 64% for whites, 57% for mixed-race students, 55% for Hispanics, 40% for African Americans, and only 38% for Native Americans. Therefore, although the share of Native American students who go to college after school is rather low, the percentage of Native American students who graduate with a Bachelor’s degree is even smaller. Given that a Bachelor’s degree is required for further study, this correlates with the low number of Master’s and Doctoral degrees received by Native American persons.
What is particularly interesting in relation to educational disparities faced by Native American students is that the government’s efforts to promote educational attainment in diverse populations had little effect on them. Long-term trends in higher education show significant improvements in achievement among other races but almost no changes for Native Americans. For example, Garibaldi (2014) reports on racial disparities in higher education between 2002 and 2012. The overall student enrollment in higher education grew by 24.3% nationally during this period, with only 7.5% growth attributed to white students (Garibaldi, 2014).
Hispanic and African American populations showed the most significant improvements in enrollment rates, with 79.3% and 49.7% growth, respectively (Garibaldi, 2014). For Asian American students, the growth rate was over 17%, thus supporting the author’s conclusions about improved access to higher education for students from immigrant families (Garibaldi, 2014). During the same period, Native American enrollment grew just by 4.2%, which is insignificant compared to other populations (Garibaldi, 2014). In other words, government efforts and policies targeting minorities served to improve the enrollment of diverse students in higher education, but had almost no effect on Native American students’ enrollment rates.
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Preventing students from dropping out of higher education is also an urgent priority, and thus, action was also taken to enhance minority students’ graduation rates. The general trend with respect to Bachelor’s degree attainment was positive, with a growth of 32% throughout the United States. In Hispanic, Black, and Asian American student populations, changes were the most obvious as they showed a growth rate of 90.6%, 49.3%, and 43.4%, respectively (Garibaldi, 2014).
For white students, Bachelor’s degree attainment grew by 21.8%, whereas for American Indians, the change constituted 16.3% (Garibaldi, 2014). This shows that both enrollment and graduation rate growth among Native American students was lower than among white students, who were historically in a better position with regard to educational attainment, and thus did not benefit from government policies targeting minorities.
Trends in enrollment and graduation also affect further academic progression among Native American students. The growth in Master’s degree attainment between 2002 and 2012 was significant, reaching a national average of 45.4% (Garibaldi, 2014). The number of Native American students receiving Master’s degrees grew by just over 28%, which is almost half the level of national growth (Garibaldi, 2014). For comparison, Master’s degree attainment among Hispanic students grew by 103.4 percent in the same period, whereas African American populations saw an 89% growth (Garibaldi, 2014).
In Doctoral education, the situation is similar; despite the national growth rate of 39.9%, Doctoral degree attainment by Native Americans grew by 20% (Garibaldi, 2013). This is lower than the growth shown by white (32.4%), Asian American (49.8%), African American (55.8%), and Hispanic (67.5%) student populations (Garidbaldi, 2014). As a result, the overall level of education among Native Americans remains lower than among people of other races, which contributes to the disadvantaged position of this population in the job market.
Representation in Computer/Technology Education and Workforce
The representation of Native Americans in computer or technology-related education and workforce remains rather understudied. Most diversity reports concerning this sector focus on black, Hispanic, and Asian American populations since their share in the workforce is more significant. However, some data on computer and tech-related work and education among Native Americans is still available.
First of all, it is evident that science and technology education still suffers from limited diversity. Museus et al. (2011) explored the enrollment of diverse students in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. The researchers noted that in 2006, the share of science and engineering-related degrees given to Native American students was just 0.7%, which is lower than that of Hispanic (7.7%) or black (8.3%) students (Museus et al., 2011).
Additionally, Native American students showed some of the lowest rates of degree completion among all student populations in STEM fields. Only 14% of Native American students in STEM fields completed their education, compared to 13.2% of black students, 15.9% of Hispanics, 67% Asian Americans, and 60% of whites (Museus et al., 2011). These trends undoubtedly contribute to the low representation of Native Americans in the IT and technology sectors.
The overall position of Native Americans in the U.S. labor force is rather weak, and it is even worse in the technology sector. Based on the report of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, 2019), the Native American population suffers from a high rate of unemployment and lower salaries. For example, the general unemployment rate throughout the U.S. was 3.9% in 2018, but among Native Americans, it reached 6.6% (BLS, 2019). Native Americans were slightly less likely to participate in the labor force altogether, with 59.6% of Native Americans working or looking for work compared to 62.9% of the general population (BLS, 2019).
In addition, racial disparities in occupation and salary were also evident. As reported by the BLS (2019), only 25% of Native Americans were involved in management, professional, or related occupations, compared with 39.7% of the total U.S. population. The share of Native Americans was larger in service, sales, and office occupations, as well as in natural resources, construction, maintenance, and production workforce (BLS, 2019).
This means that the share of white-collar workers among Native Americans is generally low, which affects their career achievements and income. With regard to the latter, less than 19% of Native American workers made $1,200 or more per month, compared to 31.6% of the general U.S. workforce (BLS, 2019). These data also show that well-paid occupations, such as IT, do not engage Native Americans sufficiently.
A report targeting the high tech sector in particular confirms this suggestion. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (2017) reported that the high tech industry is limited in terms of diversity despite accounting for almost 10% of the labor force in the United States. The share of white workers in high tech is larger than across all industries, with 68.5% of workers being white (EEOC, 2017). The percentage of black and Hispanic employees in this industry is smaller than in the general workforce. Approximately 7.4% and 7.97% of employees in the high tech sector are black and Hispanic, compared to 14.38% and 13.86% of employees across all industries (EEOC, 2017).
American Indians represent around 0.4% of workers in the high tech sector and 0.6% of all employees in the United States (EEOC, 2017). Although the difference is not as significant as with other minorities, the fact that Native Americans constitute 1.1% of adults in the U.S., underrepresentation is still a significant issue (BLS, 2019). Given the popularity and potential future growth of the high tech sector, underrepresentation prevents Native American people from accessing the opportunities that could help them to leverage their income and achieve long-term career success.
Background of Tribal Colleges and Universities
Tribal colleges and universities have become an essential source of education for Native Americans in the United States. According to Al-Asfour and Abraham (2015), tribe leaders initiated TCUs in the late 1960s in order to improve Native American students’ access to higher education in reservations. During that time, access to education was a significant concern for people from minority backgrounds, as people of color struggled to achieve racial equality in the United States. Despite allowing students from Native American backgrounds, mainstream educational institutions failed to understand and respect their cultural differences and largely ignored students’ needs and concerns (Al-Asfour & Abraham, 2015). As a result, tribal leaders became determined to control education delivered to Native American students.
The concern for the experiences of Native Americans in mainstream educational institutions drove the establishment and popularization of TCUs. Issues like discrimination, limited social support, cultural alienation, and cultural conflict affect Native American students in higher education today, and they were even more prominent in the 20th century (Thompson, Johnson-Jennings, & Nitzarim, 2013). These problems affected not only students’ subjective psychological experiences, but also their graduation rates and academic success (Al-Asfour & Abraham, 2015). Segregated education of Native American students in reservations aimed to prevent these issues and improve students’ experiences with education, thus encouraging education attainment.
In their attempts to accommodate students in TCU’s, tribal leaders faced significant barriers. At first, proposals to the Bureau of Indian Affairs to establish American Indian educational institutions were not successful (Warner & Gipp, 2009). The expansion of American higher education overall, supported by the development of community colleges, allowed for tribal leaders to initiate local education (Warner & Gipp, 2009).
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Navajo Community College became the first tribal college in the United States. Although it still faced problems, such as underfunding, the model of education offered in it became successful among tribe members, leading to the establishment of more than thirty other TCUs throughout the United States (Warner & Gipp, 2009). The original educational model and vision were retained by the TCUs that continue to exist today.
The community college model used as a framework for the first TCU impacted this type of educational institutions in several ways. First of all, TCUs retained “philosophies of academic access similar to the open enrollment policies of community colleges” (Al-Asfour & Abraham, 2015). In order words, the accessibility of higher education became the fundamental premise on which TCUs emerged and continue to exist. Secondly, as explained by Warner and Gipp (2009), the functions of TCUs and mainstream community colleges are very similar: “both strive to serve their communities as comprehensive institutions providing programs that respond to community and student needs” (p. 20).
In contrast to mainstream universities that expect students to conform to standards and requirements throughout their degree programs, TCUs offer a more flexible approach, wherein education can be tailored to the students’ needs. The primary element of education in TCUs that distinguished them from mainstream colleges was the preservation and support of Native American Identity. Al-Asfour and Abraham (2015) state that students in TCUs were supported in retaining their cultural identity since the institutions’ mission, vision, policies, and even their curricula embedded it. Other differences between TCUs and community colleges were related to their funding sources and jurisdiction (Warner & Gipp, 2009). Still, TCUs shared the educational promises of community colleges, as well as their goals to improve education attainment, promote retention, and broaden young people’s career and development opportunities.
The Role of Tribal Colleges and Universities
Today, the role of TCUs in Native American education is significant. As reported by the United States Department of Education (2019), there are 32 fully accredited TCUs in the United States and one institution awaiting accreditation. On the whole, these TCUs offer 358 programs that range from apprenticeships and certificates to Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs (USDE, 2019). Most of the TCUs are located in the Midwest and Southwest due to the proximity of American Indian reservations.
The total number of states where TCUs are present is 14, and these include Alaska, Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, and Wyoming (USDE, 2019). The proximity of many TCUs to Indian reservations enables them to provide access to education to young people who do not consider going to college elsewhere. This contributes to the role of TCUs in improving education attainment among Native Americans in the United States.
The popularity of TCUs among Native American people is generally higher than that of mainstream educational institutions. Because TCUs are tightly connected to American Indian culture and are part of tribal heritage, they are in line with Native values and beliefs, which supports their popularity. As of 2019, there were approximately 30,000 students enrolled in TCUs throughout the country (USDE, 2019). Of these students, 78% were American Indian or Alaska Native, although the remaining students were from other ethnic backgrounds (USDE, 2019). Based on the 2010 enrollment data, 32 accredited TCUs accounted for 8.7% of Native American college student enrollment (USDE, 2019).
It is also important to note that, although the overall enrollment of Native Americans in higher education institutions only increased by 4.2 percent between 2002 and 2012, the number of Native American students in TCUs increased by 23% between 2001 and 2006 (Garibaldi, 2014; USDE, 2019). This suggests that TCUs become more and more attractive to Native American students, and are likely to play a significant part in the future of Native American education.
TCUs are unique not only because of their intended purpose but also due to their ability to function successfully under challenging circumstances. As explained by Al-Asfour and Abraham (2013), most TCUs are severely underfunded, often located in dilapidated facilities, and enroll students from some of the most impoverished communities in the United States. The socioeconomic conditions in which these educational institutions exist put pressure on faculty and staff to meet students’ needs with limited resources. Based on the data from the Minority University Research Education Project (MUREP) for American Indian and Alaska Native STEM Engagement (MAIANSE), Allen (2018) states that nearly 80 percent of TCU students require financial aid to support their education. Moreover, “74 percent of Native American students at TCUs require remedial math, and 50 percent require remedial reading or writing” (Allen, 2018, para. 6).
For many students, these issues lead to a lack of confidence and motivation to study, thus increasing the threat of them dropping out of college (Allen, 2018). Functioning under such severe conditions is a challenge in itself, and TCUs developed numerous strengths to be able to continue operations.
The first strength that is evident in TCUs is that they seek support through well-established partnerships with federal agencies and non-profit organizations. For instance, Warner and Gipp (2009) mention that most TCUs work closely with the Bureau of Indian Affairs and a number of other governmental agencies. Moreover, the institutions actively seek support from philanthropic organizations, such as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and the Bush Foundation, as well as from private entities. In 1989, the American Indian College Fund was instituted, allowing donations from both individuals and companies, which support scholarships, management, and further fundraising (Warner & GIpp, 2009). These partnerships and connections enable TCUs to acquire funding for their activities and survive when federal funding is not sufficient.
Apart from funding, TCUs also have established relationships that support them through improved staffing and other services. For instance, retention of experienced and competent faculty members has always been a challenge for TCUs, and it affected the instruction in science and mathematics in particular (Warner & Gipp, 2009). In order to address this problem, many TCUs form close partnerships with non-Indian educational institutions.
These institutions can lend faculty members to TCUs, act as funding conduits for TCUs awaiting accreditation, and participate in cross-registration of students (Warner & Gipp, 2009). Additionally, partnerships with other colleges and universities enable TCUs to provide unique academic opportunities to students, including research initiatives, teacher training programs, and easier transfers (Warner & Gipp, 2009). Hence, ties with other educational institutions are also a valuable asset for TCUs.
Another strength of TCUs is their ties with American Indian communities. According to Warner and Gipp (2009), most TCUs are governed by boards of trustees that are composed of local American Indian Community members. At the same time, boards of trustees do not require approval from local tribal leaders on their policies or activities.
Warner and Gipp (2009) show that while “most American Indian decision-making entities (including tribal governing councils) must seek the approval of the Secretary of the Interior for their important decisions,” boards of trustees of TCUs do not have to do so (p. 29). This enables colleges to make decisions that concern education and survival without the influence of tribal leaders, although the wellbeing of local American Indian communities is usually taken into consideration by boards’ members.
Lastly, an essential asset of TCUs is the education model that complies with their primary mission, which is to offer a culturally inclusive approach for Native Americans to attain higher education. The model applied in TCUs has four core characteristics: “strong connections to the physical and cultural spaces on which they reside, cultural content in curriculum, indigenous pedagogy, and community outreach and education that is rooted in tribal identity and practice” (Gallup, Inc., 2019).
The first characteristic supports TCUs’ mission by ensuring that local tribes are involved in the educational process, thus providing students from Native American communities with greater access to education. Cultural content in education is also crucial as it helps students to maintain their cultural identity and benefit from a higher level of cultural support throughout their study. Indigenous pedagogy, in turn, assists TCUs in meeting students’ needs by ensuring that educators are aware and respectful of American Indian customs, traditions, values, and experiences. Lastly, community outreach programs strengthen the links between TCUs and local communities, helping students to maintain connections with their communities, and preventing cultural alienation. In this way, the innovative education model of TCUs has become a crucial asset that enables these colleges to fulfill their promise to Native American individuals and communities.
Benefits of TCUs for Native American Students
TCUs provide many benefits to Native American students, both throughout their studies and later after graduation. However, there is an evident lack of recent research data comparing the personal, professional, and academic experiences of TCU students to Native American students in other universities or colleges. As part of its partnership with the American Indian College Fund, Gallup, Inc. (2019) carried out a large-scale study focused on the alumni of American TCUs. Although it targeted past students rather than current students, the study was unique due to the comparisons drawn. The reported outcomes show how TCU alumni’s professional and personal lives differ from the experiences of college graduates nationally and from Native American college graduates specifically.
First of all, students of TCUs enjoyed their experience in college more than college graduates nationally and American Indian graduates from other colleges. One of the significant contributors to students’ lives during college was the emotional support received from mentors and professors. About 80% of students in TCUs agreed that they had at least one professor or instructor who made them feel excited about learning, compared to around 70% of graduates nationally (Gallup, Inc., 2019). Additionally, 59% of alumni agreed that their professors or instructors cared about them, compared to just over 30% national average for all groups of graduates (Gallup, Inc., 2019).
Mentorship was also a positive experience for students at TCUs, as 53% of graduates agreed that their mentors encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams, compared to the 30% of Native American graduates from other colleges (Gallup, Inc., 2019). With regard to experiential learning, students who attended TCUs did not differ significantly from other graduates. Still, it is vital to note that 60% of students at TCUs had internships or job placements (Gallup, Inc., 2019).
This experience is crucial to college students as it teaches them to apply their knowledge outside of the classroom and prepares them for future work. On the whole, 59% of graduates from TCUs agreed that these colleges are perfect for Native American students, compared to 37% of American Indian graduates nationally (Gallup, Inc., 2019). This shows that TCUs contribute to Native American students’ academic engagement and support them in attaining education to a greater extent than mainstream colleges.
In terms of employment, students who graduated from TCUs tend to enjoy better opportunities than those who attended other colleges. The study found that 42% of TCU graduates working full-time reported being engaged in their work, compared to 36% of non-TCU Native American graduates (Gallup, Inc., 2019). The levels of active disengagement were significantly lower, with just 6% among TCU alumni compared to 14% and 15% for college graduates nationally and non-TCU Native American graduates, respectively (Gallup, Inc., 2019). Furthermore, 40% of TCU graduates agreed that their institution prepared them for life outside of college well, which is significantly higher than the national average (27%) and the score among Native American Graduates from other colleges (24%) (Gallup, Inc., 2019).
The job satisfaction of TCU graduates also tended to be higher than that of other alumni. For example, 53% of TCU alumni agreed that they were interested in their job, and 37% stated that their job was ideal for them (Gallup, Inc., 2019). For college graduates nationally, the same responses occurred in 38% and 22%, respectively (Gallup, Inc., 2019). Therefore, attending TCUs provides benefits to students in the form of increased job satisfaction and a higher level of engagement, which are both crucial to long-term goal attainment.
The levels of wellbeing among TCU graduates were also higher than in other populations of graduates. The study considered welfare in terms of physical, community, financial, social, and career elements, thus providing comprehensive data for comparison. With respect to community, financial, social, and career wellbeing, TCU graduates showed statistically better results than non-TCU graduates, including Native American Graduates. The difference was particularly significant in the career element, where 62% of TCU alumni stated that they liked their daily work and are motivated to achieve their goals, compared to 43% of all graduates in the U.S. (Gallup, Inc., 2019).
Community wellbeing was also significantly higher for TCU graduates (47% compared to 37% nationally), which is likely due to TCUs’ connections with local Native American communities (Gallup, Inc., 2019). The financial wellbeing of TCU alumni was slightly higher than the national average of 31% and reached 36% (Gallup, Inc., 2019). Overall, TCU graduates reported being more satisfied with their lives after college than students who attended other educational institutions. This means that the benefits derived from studying at TCUs extend beyond students’ academic experiences and that TCUs provide Native American students with a way of enhancing their quality of life in the long term.
TCUs Offering Degrees in Tech/Computer-Related Fields
Despite the potential benefits of TCUs for students, their funding remains limited, which affects the range of degrees and programs provided. Financial concerns and staff shortages often force community colleges to rely on the availability of faculty instead of broadening the scope of academic programs available (Warner & Gipp, 2009). As a result, the number of TCUs offering degrees in tech or computer-related fields is limited. The American Indian College Fund (2019) provides information about all TCUs in the United States, including the types of degrees offered. Based on the data from the page and from links to institutions’ websites, less than one-third of American TCUs provide education in these fields.
In Alaska, Ilisagvik College offers Associate degrees and certificates in Information Technology. Diné College in Arizona, which is the oldest TCU in the country, formerly known as the Navajo Community College, offers certificate programs in computer technology. In Michigan, Bay Mills Community College offers an Associate of Applied Science degree in Computer Information Systems. Minnesotan Leech Lake Tribal College does not offer degrees in IT specifically, but there are elective computer and IT courses that students can pursue apart of their Associate of Arts’ degree with STEM emphasis.
Fort Peck Community College, located in Montana, offers a range of IT-related degree programs, all in the Associate of Applied Science branch, which include Information/Networking Technology, Business Technology, and Communication Technology. Montana also has two other TCUs providing computer-related degree programs. The Salish Kootenai College offers four types of IT-related programs: workforce certification in Computer Applications, the Associate of Arts degree in Digital Design Technology, the Associate of Science in Information Technology, and Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. The Stone Child College also offers the Associate of Science degree in Information Technology.
In North Dakota, there are four TCUs offering degrees in computer or tech-related specialties. Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College (Fort Berthold) offers the Associate of Science degree in Computer Science, whereas the Sitting Bull College – provides the same degree program in IT and a certificate program in IT. The Turtle Mountain Community College offers just one IT-related specialty, which is the Associate of Applied Science program in Computer Support Specialist.
Lastly, the United Tribes Technical College provides the Associate of Applied Science degrees in Computer Information Technology. In South Dakota, opportunities for studying IT in TCUs are also present. Sinte Gleska University provides Bachelor of Science programs in Computer Science, the Oglala Lakota College offers IT as a major in Bachelor of Science and Associate of Applied Science programs, and the Sisseton Wahpeton College teaches Computer Systems technology at the Associate of Applied Science level. Finally, in New Mexico, the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute offers the Associate of Applied Science degree in Network Management, which is also relevant to the IT profession.
Factors Influencing Retention and Persistence of American Indian Students in STEM
Given the low rate of graduations among Native American students in higher education, there are growing concerns associated with retention and persistence. STEM fields of education are widely considered to be more challenging than other majors, and they are crucial to career success in computer or tech-related areas (Smith, Cech, Metz, & Huntoon, 2014). Hence, understanding the factors that affect the retention and persistence of American Indian students in STEM is essential to improve approaches to STEM education in this student population.
One particular factor that relates to Native American’s persistence in Science and Engineering education is community engagement. According to the study by Smith et al. (2014), “the endorsement of communal goals by Native American STEM majors at the start of their college careers were negatively associated with their stated intentions to persist, and negatively associated with their perceived performance after their first semester in college” (p. 423).
This is mainly because STEM fields do not offer students sufficient opportunities to contribute to their tribal communities, and the predominant culture of mainstream higher education institutions is individualistic (Smith et al., 2014). Students’ feelings of belonging also affected their persistence and intention to stay. It is likely that this factor also stems from the tribal orientation of Native American students and the cultural alienation they experience in mainstream education (Smith et al., 2014). Hence, students’ ties with Native American culture and traditions may stand in the way of their STEM education.
Besides cultural factors, the success of Native American students in STEM fields of education also depends on their socioeconomic status and academic experience as a whole. For example, the presence of role models, mentors, and other members enhancing students’ network of social support is preferred (Johnson, Myers, Ward, Sanyal, & Hollist, 2017). Moreover, the socioeconomic status of students correlated with their intentions to stay since college education is expensive, and financial aid is not always sufficient for students from poor families (Johnson et al., 2017). Educators should take these factors into account while developing ways of improving the retention and persistence of Native American students in STEM education.
Integration of Culturally Relevant Approaches in TCUs’ Curricula to Address STEM Education Needs of Native American Students
Developing ways of integrating culture into STEM education as part of TCUs’ curricula is essential for educators to address students’ needs. Research on the practices that support student retention and persistence in STEM highlights multiple strategies that could help to achieve this goal. First of all, teaching is a crucial component of Native American students’ experiences in education. According to the study by Schmidtke (2009), students who had positive interactions with and impressions of their instructors were more likely to stay in technical education fields. Developing a personal relationship with instructors and professors was particularly important to these students (Schmidtke, 2009). Consequently, introducing and maintaining mentorship schemes for Native American STEM students in TCUs is essential to improving their academic achievement.
Secondly, research also confirms the importance of emphasizing the value of students’ future careers to their local communities. Studies by Smith et al. (2014) revealed that students were less motivated to study and had intentions to leave if they felt like their future career would not enable them to give back to their communities. Hence, ensuring that students understand the value brought by STEM careers to communities is necessary. Identifying culturally connected communal goals for students in STEM fields and including real-world applications of STEM knowledge in the curriculum could be beneficial (Smith et al., 2014).
Thirdly, developing personal social support networks is essential to fostering feelings of belonging among Native Americans. As explained by Smith et al. (2014), Native American students in STEM benefit from having culturally relevant support groups and networks. For example, creating community outreach programs involving STEM students or instituting tech-related Native American student societies could help students to find more value in their education. Addressing students’ financial concerns should also be among the top priorities of STEM programs at TCUs. Johnson et al. (2017) suggest establishing formal advisor/faculty and institutional practices, such as early discussion of financial support, explanation of hidden costs, and exploration of available financial aid options throughout the study.
These practices could prevent students from dropping out due to financial concerns, thus contributing to graduation rates. Finally, educators should also consider increasing the degree of family involvement due to the central role of the family in the Native American value system (Johnson et al., 2017). Institutions can improve family involvement through various family-inclusive events, as well as by supporting students in meeting their family commitments (Johnson et al., 2017). These practices could contribute to the experiences of Native American students in STEM education, thus increasing their motivation, retention, and graduation rates.
Evidence of Cultural/Societal context to Student Recruitment, Retention, and Matriculation in Computer/Tech-Related Fields
On the whole, research evidence shows the high significance of cultural and societal context to student recruitment, retention, and matriculation in computer/tech-related fields. The data on Native American students in higher education shows that they are more likely to drop out of college than their peers from other cultural backgrounds (Adelman et al., 2013). Further research into the topic shows that this is mostly due to cultural differences that distinguish Native Americans from other populations (Smith et al., 2014). Students’ perceptions about their learning experiences in TCUs also support these findings.
Because TCUs strive to deliver learning in a culturally sensitive environment, students who attend these institutions have better academic experiences and express greater feelings of belonging (Gallup, Inc., 2019). In contrast, Native American students in mainstream educational institutions struggle more because of the poor connection between their culture and academic life (Gallup, Inc., 2019; Johnson et al., 2017; Smith et al., 2019).
The fact that computer/tech-related fields of education are populated mainly by white Americans strengthens the cultural alienation of Native Americans, leading to higher dropout rates and poor academic results (Smith et al., 2014). The social experiences of students could remedy the situation, with family involvement and personal student-instructor connections having a positive influence on Native American students in STEM (Johnson et al., 2017; Schmidtke, 2009). Therefore, fostering cultural and social connections is essential to enhancing Native American student recruitment, retention, and matriculation in STEM fields.
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