unnamed (2)Courtesy of NAEP

Inland colleges are working toward increasing the enrollment of Native American students into local colleges. Officials at UC Riverside, California State University, San Bernardino (CSUSB) and the University of Redlands want to demolish barriers that prevent Native Americans from obtaining a college education.

Around the nation, Native Americans represent only one percent of U.S. college students, while making up roughly two percent of the overall U.S. population. Only 13 percent of Native Americans hold a college degree in comparison to 29 percent of the American population in total. Increasing low high school graduation rates, which are directly correlated to college enrollment, is crucial to growing the amount of Native American students seen on college campuses. Native American students represent a very small portion of the overall student body at Inland colleges.

Some of the biggest barriers Native Americans face in regards to college enrollment include: poverty, unemployment, high tuition and other college-related expenses, lack of transportation, distance of colleges from Native American reservations and the historical distrust that Native Americans hold toward the U.S. education system. Distrust of the U.S. education system stems back to the the latter half of the 1800s when Native American boarding schools were implemented. Although schools of this type sought to assimilate Native American tribes into U.S. culture, they did so by attempting to eliminate the language and culture of tribes and to “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

At UCR, Native American students are served by the Native American Student Programs within Costo Hall, which is directed by Joshua Gonzales. The mission of this program is to “provide educational, cultural and social support for Native American students.” Other services, such as providing scholarship information, peer mentorship training programs and programs helping with the transition from high school to college, are also offered. As of fall 2015, UCR has 21 undergraduate students who identify as Native American. According to Gonzales, the program currently serves approximately 125 students, both Native American students and those of other races.

UCR has attempted to increase the presence of Native Americans throughout college campuses through the creation of a week-long summer residential program that brings Native American middle and high schoolers onto the UCR campus. For the past 10 years, this program has taught leadership skills and writing, and has allowed these students to partake in sharing tribal songs and playing sports. The program has proven to be successful, with 90 percent of participating students moving on to pursue some form of higher education.