Forgotten students: American Indian high school student narratives on college access

Amy J. Fann
School of Education and Information Studies, University of California, Los Angeles
July, 2005


American Indian high school students, primarily from rural California Indian reservations, were interviewed about their experiences navigating the pathway to college. Access to college was considered in a context that included students' families, tribes, school experiences, and living in a rural reservation community. Students shared that they had to make tough decisions about going away to college, leaving highly interdependent extended families and foregoing significant language, cultural or religious community practices. Given that students would be the first in their families to go to college or the first hope for a degree, families relied on school personnel to provide information on how to get to college. Tribes supported college going through financial support depending on available resources.
Within their schools, the majority of students did not have access to critical information about college, and described how school-based personnel and practices highlighted or downplayed options after high school such as going to college or joining the military. Although only junior and senior level Native students with postsecondary aspirations were interviewed, few students had benefited from coursework or counseling requisite to college going. Policy implications for improving postsecondary access for Native students include comprehensive and systematic academic preparation and college counseling that begins before high school. Additionally, postsecondary outreach efforts must be responsive to students' experiences growing up in rural tribal nations and support mechanisms need to be in place within schools, postsecondary institutions and tribal education departments to help students successfully make transitions back and forth from tribal communities to higher education communities.