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Denver based organization works to increase Native American college student enrollment nationwide

The American Indian College Fund offers scholarships for Indigenous students and hopes to reach equitable enrollment rates.

DENVER — For 32 years, the American Indian College Fund has offered scholarships to Native American students with a mission to continue to increase enrollment nationwide. 

The organization’s President and CEO, Cheryl Crazy Bull, said access to higher education remains a barrier for many Indigenous communities. Many being first-generation college students struggle to navigate higher education, she said. The more common barrier remains access to financial assistance. 

Most of the scholarships granted go to students who attend tribal colleges and universities (TCUs). However, Crazy Bull said they still accept applications from Native American students regardless of the higher education institution they plan to attend. 

According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute (PNPI), in 2019, 25% of Native Americans over 25 had an associate’s degree or higher. That’s compared to the general population in that age group at 42% 

“They integrate Native history, culture, language, both specific to the community, but also more broad Indigenous knowledge into their curriculum,” said Crazy Bull. “They also bring out the best in Western education so that students are able to navigate that entire environment.” 

One of the American Indian College Fund scholarship recipients, Chandra Norton, attended a community college before transferring to Northwestern Indian College. It’s one of only 35 tribal colleges in the United States. She is a member of the Hoopa Valley Tribe in California and a descendant of Hopi and Yurok. 

“I attended high school on my reservation, so I was really used to and familiar to being around predominately Native students,” said Norton. “So when I went to the community college, there was definitely a culture shock being a minority, I didn’t realize how that played a part in my education.”

She graduated from Northwestern Indian College with a bachelor’s degree in Human Services. At the tribal college, Norton said the curriculum was based on tribal communities, working in those communities, and working with Indigenous people. 

Data from PNPI reports nearly 90 percent of all Native American college students attended a TCU in the fall of 2018. Since 2016, enrollment at TCUs has increased annually. 

“Because of the college fund I was able to focus my time solely on my education,” Norton said. 

While increasing enrollment at TCUs could help bridge disparities, the American Indian College Fund wants to increase the number of Native Americans with college degrees, no matter what college or university they attend. 

“There’s a big equity gap and we would actually have to educate hundreds of thousands of Native people in order for us to close that gap,” Crazy Bull said. 

Scholarship applications and more information can be found here

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