Today, many American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students have high ambitions for post-secondary education but numerous obstacles await them on their journeys to success. Most students’ geographic location, in distant and rural communities, hinder them from relocating to university towns. Family responsibilities, cost of attendance, lack of child-care and misrepresentation on mainstream campuses can also be big struggles for some students. Due to these circumstances, many Native students have suffered from lack of access to higher education and have fallen into a cycle of inopportunity. Fortunately, organizations like the American Indian College Fund have seen these disparities and are actively working toward educational equity for Native students.
Since its inception in 1989, the American Indian College Fund has worked diligently to send thousands of Native students to college. The College Fund believes that education is the answer to many socio-economic problems that the AIAN community faces. Some of these issues include poverty, cultural and religious discrimination, and unemployment. According to the US Census Bureau, only 14.3% of AIANs hold a bachelor’s degree or higher; compared to the nation’s average of 30.9%. These alarming concerns are why the College Fund supplies millions of dollars yearly in scholarships to give students the opportunity to combat these issues. Alongside supporting Native students throughout their higher education ventures, the College Fund has continuously supported and funded 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) across the country. Because of its investments in Native students and tribal colleges, the College Fund has become the largest minority scholarship provider for AIAN students nationwide.
For over 15 years, the partnership between the Argosy Foundation and the College Fund has provided 183 students with scholarships and the tools necessary for them to graduate. The scholarships provided have covered most students’ full tuition, which allows them to focus more on their studies than financing their education. These students have gone on to receive multiple college certificates, associate, and bachelor’s degrees while attending TCUs. The most common undergraduate majors amongst the scholars include: environmental science, community health, business, and American Indian studies.
One exceptional scholar that the Argosy Foundation has been proud to support is Hannah Jantz, member of the Lummi Tribe in Washington state. Jantz is a first-generation college graduate from Northwest Indian College with a Bachelor’s degree in tribal government and business management with a minor in early childhood education. Jantz expressed that scholarships played a major role in her ability to attend and graduate from college. “I wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it wasn’t for scholarships. I feel like that’s how most Tribal Native American students feel, because we’re trying to just survive and live day to day,” Jantz said.
The partnership between the Argosy Foundation and the College Fund aided Jantz in her dreams of attending a tribal college. “It was like the most amazing thing that I’ve ever gotten to experience,” she recalled. “I was very fortunate to go attend a tribal college, because I learned more about myself and about my people and about my ancestors. It was amazing.” Being a first-generation student in college wasn’t easy for Jantz, but she knew it was the only way to a better life. “I grew up in poverty; like normal Native American children, I’m sure. My main goal is to stop that cycle. I don’t want that for my son, and I knew education was my way out of that [cycle].” With her college degree in hand, Jantz says that she wants to open a child care center on the Lummi reservation to provide a safe place for all the children in her tribe.
Just as Jantz completed college, the College Fund’s goal is to achieve a higher graduation rates for all its scholars by 2025. Ensuring ongoing scholarship renewal for students participating in the Argosy Foundation Tribal Scholarship program is one way the Argosy Foundation hopes to help the College Fund reach that goal. Scholarship renewals are a strategy to get Native students who are already enrolled to stay enrolled and graduate. “Not only did I receive [the scholarship] once but multiple times. It’s not just a onetime opportunity. It made me feel like you guys believed in me. And so it helped push me with my college because somebody else that didn’t even know me, they just knew me through paper, was rooting for me on the sideline,” expressed Jantz. The passion and success shown by students like Hannah Jantz are one of the main reasons the Argosy Foundation finds the long-term partnership with the College Fund so vital and meaningful.
The College Fund does much more than supply financial assistance to its scholars. Because of low post-secondary graduation rates in the AIAN community, the College fund makes it a top priority to provide helpful resources for its students. The College Fund has implemented a series of different programs to promote student success. One of the newer initiatives is the Native Pathways Program. This program has four different pathways: High School Admissions, College Bridge, Tribal College Transfer, and the First-Year Experience Pathway. Together the Native Pathways programs help to create a college-going environment inside tribal high schools and supports college students throughout their studies.
While aiding Native students at any post-secondary institution of their choice, the fund’s connections specifically with TCUs have created equitable educational opportunities. The majority of TCUs are located on American Indian reservations and in Alaska Native villages. These colleges and universities give students who live in rural areas, or those who can’t easily afford to move, access to higher education in close proximity to home. TCUs not only function as affordable higher education institutions, but also culturally important markers for Native students and their communities. By infusing Native tradition and history in their curriculum, TCUs help students on their journey of self-awareness in embracing their Native identities.
The scholarships provided by the College Fund boosts students’ confidence throughout their higher education journeys and improve their ability to graduate and find meaningful employment. The Argosy Foundation looks forward to continuing the partnership with the College Fund and its efforts to advance the educational achievements of Native students. To hear more about the College Fund’s effort to support AIAN students and TCUs please visit www.collegefund.org.