Program Encourages Native American Students to Enroll at South Dakota Colleges

Minorities are unfortunately still being marginalized, but a new program started by the South Dakota Board of Regents has been started to help Native Americans become university students.

In a press release issued last Thursday, the South Dakota Board of Regents made public their intent to help young Native Americans become educated at the college and university level. Conducted by Daniel Palmer, the regents' institutional researcher, the study interviewed 49 American Indian students currently enrolled at four different South Dakota universities to get their first-hand thoughts and experiences.

Some of the findings included anxiety about leaving behind friends and family, fear of culture shock and alienation due to American Indian heritage, financial worries, and lack of having a mentor. Although many students also face these same issues, the main difference is marginalized minorities often don't get the same degree of support.

Based on the focus groups held with the 49 students, Palmer also discovered some good news: they mentioned that they felt they had the support of their families, they felt as though they were setting an example, serving their tribe, and beating odds stacked against them.

With that in mind, the SD Board of Regents formulated a program designed specifically to help Native Americans excel in academics, as only 1 in 10 pursue post-secondary education (compared to 25% of South Dakotans of working adult age possessing a college degree.) This figure is especially startling when considering that 70,000 Native Americans reside in South Dakota, comprising 10% of the state's population.

One of the points that stands out from the study includes conducting outreach efforts to Native American high school students, assuring them that a university education is never out of reach for them. Another is to offer more scholarships and grant aids so finances aren't a deterring factor, and to keep students there. There's no guarantee that an increase of American Indians enrolling in colleges translates to them graduating, and the new program aims to develop and strengthen student services more in line with the family-centered orientation of tribal life.

Only time will tell if the Board of Regents' program nets results, but the fact that something's being done is a good sign. Too often, students are being shrugged aside because of a lack of visibility but it seems as though this time, South Dakota got things right.

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