The Decline in Male Native American College Enrollment: Perspectives and Strategies


By Kyle Griggs

When asking why fewer Native American males are choosing to not continue their education after high school, while the number of Native American women is increasing, there is no one clear answer. There are however many reasons and factors as to why Native males are struggling to find their way into a college class room.

First, many tribes today still have poor standards for employment within their institution. Why would they want to leave their tribes and families to go to college to only come home to a place where they are not be able to utilize the degree they have just earned?

Second, our country’s economic situation leaves many young males having to give up their dreams of attending school because they now have to help support their families. They do not have the luxury of college because their mothers and fathers are getting laid off and they now have to earn a living just to keep food on their tables.

Third, the cost of attending a university has become so high, unless you have the money, you will inevitably be forced into debt if you still choose to go. But there is hope. Many tribal leaders are taking this fight to Washington. And Washington is responding in an overwhelmingly supportive matter.

It is almost a given that unless your tribe has valuable land or a casino on the property, it is struggling to survive, both from an economic stand point and a traditional stand point. Native males are not getting the education they need to be prepared for what comes after high school. Luckily, we have our president and his administration on our side.

On December 2nd of this year, President Obama announced his signature of an executive order titled “Improving American Indian and Alaska Native Education Opportunities and Strengthening Tribal Colleges and Universities.”

Rob Capriccioso from Indiancountrytoday.com states “The order was meant to improve educational performances and options for Native American students from early education through college.” It is an effort to ensure every tribe has means to properly educate their people.

In order for them to be prepared for college, they must have the same resources as the rest of the country. Representative Ed Markey said about the executive order “This is an important advancement in fulfilling our commitment to our Tribal communities. American Indian and Alaska Native students have a dropout rate higher than any other racial or ethnic group in America. This is a trend we need to reverse, and the new education initiative is a step in the right direction.”

While Washington is finding ways such as that to aid Native Americans in receiving their education, there are still reasons why men are finding it difficult to take that next step. Haskell student Marcus Barnoskie believes it is because of our country’s economic depression. “I think that most men are now choosing to skip school and stay on the reservations so they can get a job and help put food on the table. They don’t have time to think about their future because they are too focused on their present.”

This could account for why more Native women are choosing college while the men stay behind. It has long been tradition that the man provides for his family and takes care of their needs. It is nearly impossible for Native men to go to school full time AND provide for their loved ones in today’s America.

According to R.M Arrieta from Inthesetimes.com, the national unemployment rate among Native people spiked from 7.7 percent in the first half of 2007 to 15.2 percent in the first half of 2010, while whites experienced a 4.1 percent and 9.1 percent unemployment rate respectively, in the same time period. That, along with the lack of educational resources and funding, has made it nearly impossible for the average Native American male to attend a university. However, Marcus along with many others, believe there are ways to fix this.

Implementing more scholarships and handing out more money may seem like the answer but it is not. We must first start at the foundation, the Tribes and reservations. The Government needs to reclaim their vows they made to the Native people of this land. Nixon helped our people end “Termination” and now President Obama is doing his best to help bring “Self Determination” back to the forefront.

One suggestion is to give Native males more initiative to go to college. Universities should offer special aid to Native males so once they graduate, they are 100% guaranteed a job in a field that meets their needs as well as helps them support and give back to their Tribe. Scholarships are great but they are not enough. Mentoring programs need to be implemented so they always have a person who can be there for them and support them if they begin to lose their way.

The price of the average semester with tuition, books, housing, etc. is around $15,000 per semester. Haskell is great for many reasons but most importantly, the cost. It is about $110 for a semester here if you live off campus and $220 if you live on campus. When asked, an overwhelmingly number of men said that was the biggest reason they choose to attend Haskell University.

The quickest way we will see more Native males attending school is to drastically drop the price of attendance. It is easy that is to say and difficult it is to implement, but it must be done to ensure every American gets a proper education after high school, not just Natives.

The average Native male does not have the ability to take out a loan, so how are they to afford going to college? The answer is simple; they cannot. Instead, they choose to stay close to home and find a job that merely supports them rather than having opportunities at their disposal to support their people and tribes.

In the end, it was evident by the responses on campus as to why many believe Native Male enrollment is down. The Native Americans are struggling in this new, broken economy. They are struggling more so than the average white man, as they have always had to. It is not on the forefront of many Native men’s minds to go to college. It is on their minds to keep their traditions alive and their families fed and warm at night.

But if we lower tuition rates and give male students a valid reason to leave their tribe for school, then I believe we will see an increase of Native males attending colleges. Along with lower tuition, we must build a support system for those who choose to attend. To keep dropout rates down, we must ensure that there will be jobs and resources for them to utilize once they are finished.