New Program Aims to Increase Number of Underrepresented College Students Served

Books on campus

In February, Augustana University students will launch a new program aimed at increasing the rate of underrepresented youth – specifically Native American students – who pursue post-secondary education and build long-term career and life goals. 

“The Native American student population continues to be underrepresented in both high school graduation rates and post-secondary enrollment,” said Dr. Pam Homan, executive director of Augustana’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship. “This new program will enable Augustana students and faculty to expose middle school Native American students to the college experience.”

Funded through a grant from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation, the program will include three sessions from February through March facilitated by AU students and faculty. In each session, 10- 12 middle school level Native American students will explore aspects of college student life, including the performing and visual arts, STEM-based initiatives and co-curricular events. Each session will also include a family introduction to post-secondary education.  A pre -and post-perceptional survey to assess the student level of confidence and information about post-secondary education will be given to the participants.

Augustana students say they're excited about the project.

"This is a great project for Augustana, especially students. In addition to helping underrepresented youth in Sioux Falls, this project will be an incredible opportunity for students to expand their education beyond the classroom and into one of our community's most-challenging issues."

Paige Schwitters
Augustana Student Association president

Homan said a secondary goal of the project is engaging Augustana University students and the campus community as future problem solvers in developing a deeper understanding of the challenges faced by the Native American student population in accessing post-secondary education.

Background

In 2015, Augustana led a focus group with Native American grandmothers around the topic of higher education. Participants said many Native American students do not believe post-secondary education is within their grasp, nor do they understand the value of completing high school as an access point to post-secondary education. The focus group’s recommendation was to provide opportunities for Native American students and families to interact with a college community. Native American grandmothers believed that interaction, hands-on experience, and exploration of a post-secondary environment at the middle school level may best afford Native American students the confidence to believe that post-secondary education is within his/her reach.

Statistics

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012 American Indian/Alaska Native individuals represented less than 1 percent of total post-secondary enrollment in the U.S., compared to 60 percent for the white population.

In the Sioux Falls School District, the high school completion rate for Native American students was 54.4 percent in 2015, compared to 95.1 percent for predominately white students.