The challenges facing Native American college students

A nonprofit offers retreats that bring Native American students and universities together

Underrepresented on campus and entering college with fewer academic resources than their peers, many Native American students must overcome major hurdles to succeed in higher education.

Native American students are the least likely of any ethnic or racial group to have access to college preparation or advanced placement courses, with many students receiving little or no college counseling. This cohort makes up just 1.1% of the country's high school population, and is even smaller in higher education.

New Mexico-based nonprofit College Horizons seeks to expand Native American students' opportunities through means of support including five-day summer workshops on admissions and financial aid.

In an interview with nprEd, College Horizons director Carmen Lopez discussed the challenges that Native American students face, as well as colleges' lack of awareness regarding these issues.

As part of the program, 50 prestigious universities and colleges are invited to the student retreats to learn more about Native American students' experiences and educational backgrounds.   

"We give counselors an appreciation for what Native students experience, the inequities they face," Lopez said. "Admissions counselors realize, 'My gosh, you have only two AP classes you've been offered! Your school has never offered any test preparation,' or, 'You're not getting any advising!'"

The retreats include a mix of Native American students from different socioeconomic backgrounds who come together to learn about college life and explore deeper questions of identity.

"ln our families and schools, [Native American students] don't have these conversations about identity. We don't talk about it at our dinner table," Lopez said. "But in college, that's what you get questioned on. College Horizons creates a way for them to explore their identity development."

Survey: What college students really think about diversity

Lopez also works to boost Native American students' confidence by telling them that they're wanted and belong at college. Such conversations become particularly meaningful as these students face instances of racism and cultural insensitivity on campus.

"I want them to know that other [Native American] students have gone through this and that we've survived and thrived. That they're not alone," Lopez said.

Despite all the support that College Horizons offers Native American students, Lopez said it is up to colleges and universities to improve their diversity recruitment efforts.

College leaders look to make diversity more diverse

"You can't come to College Horizons as a one-stop shop for your recruitment. There has to be more dedication," she said. "There's so much we have to do to get the best and the brightest in Indian country. We're talking about a population that is so underrepresented and so underserved" (Sanchez, nprED, 8/15).

Research Brief

Diversity Climate Surveys

Next in Today's Briefing

Want to change a bad first impression? Here's why it's so tough to do

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague