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Monday, December 21, 2020

The American Indian College Fund: A legacy of educating future Native leaders

The civil unrest of 2020 has emboldened Charity Navigator’s commitment to promoting a more equitable social sector by encouraging both organizations and donors to consider aspects of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
in their decision-making. 

Our multifaceted approach includes evolving our ratings to assess key measures of equity, generating Hot Topics to help you Give with Confidence to organizations that are founded by diverse leaders who are dedicated to bridging inequities, and partnering with leading foundations to better tell the story of the unmet and often misunderstood needs that uniquely impact underserved communities. 

In recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ month this year, we’ve partnered with
Native Ways Federation to tell the story of the persistent needs and inequities
that afflict our Native American communities.

Covid-19’s impact on Native American communities illustrates the fault lines of inequity in the United States when it comes to Native people. The infection rate among Native Americans is 3.5 greater than white communities due to poverty, limited access to health care, and pre-existing health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The pandemic does not just threaten Native communities’ health—it also threatens the ability of Native students, who live on remote, rural reservations located in food and technology deserts—to complete a higher education. 

The American Indian College Fund (the College Fund), a 501(c)(3) organization headquartered in Denver, Colorado, has supported Native American access to and the successful completion of higher education and to close the college attainment gap through scholarships and programs for 31 years. Today only 14.5% of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AIAN) have a college degree—less than half of that of other groups (35%). This is shocking when you consider the number of AIAN people in the United States—8.1 million (as of the 2010 Census, with numbers expected to be greater in the 2020 Census). Native people come from the 574 federally recognized Indian Nations from Alaska (where 229 tribal nations are located) and across 35 other states (the other 345 federally recognized tribes). There are also state-recognized tribes nationwide.

Poverty is the number one reason for the education attainment gap. The percentage of Native Americans living in poverty is nearly 26%, compared to 14% of the rest of the population. Yet the College Fund knows that college-educated professionals who serve their communities are precisely what Native communities urgently need today, and scholarships and programs to help students succeed help them attend college and overcome poverty.

Currently 44% of Native American scholars the College Fund supports are majoring in science, technology, engineering, math, healthcare, or education. For Native Americans, the motivation to earn a college degree is not just about individual social mobility—it is about sharing the benefit of an education with their entire communities. Native communities desperately need their students to graduate and return home to serve as doctors, nurses, EMTs, teachers, environmental scientists, engineers, and more, making a difference in the health, education, environmental, and economic well-being of tribal people.

And our graduates do return to their communities in great numbers. A joint survey conducted by the American Indian College Fund and Gallup in 2019 of Native American students attending tribal colleges and universities (TCUs)— the 37 affordable, accredited, culturally relevant higher education institutions chartered by tribes that serve Native students on or near Indian reservations—shows just that. According to the survey report, titled Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities, 74% percent of TCU graduates surveyed say they forged careers serving their communities and societies. More than half of graduates surveyed reported a deep interest in the work they do in careers that serve their communities such as education, healthcare, social services, and more. And our graduates are not just vital to economic success—they are also integral to the continuation of Native languages, cultures, and traditions, which are woven into the curriculum at TCUs. 

The pandemic has caused shutdowns across Native communities just as it has in other communities. The difference is these shutdowns have put Native students at an even greater disadvantage because Native communities were already at an economic disadvantage. In addition to the high rates of poverty cited earlier, more than 50% of our students work full-time or part-time to support their families while attending college, and greater than 50% are their families’ primary source of income. With tribal enterprises shuttered and income gone, these students are relying on scholarships from the College Fund to stay in school.

This is a unique moment in history. You can help our students go to college, graduate, and give back to their communities with the following gifts:
  • $90 will purchase one textbook.
  • $125 will pay for one credit hour.
  • $375 will pay for one college course.
  • $1,400 will pay for books and supplies for a student for one year.
  • $5,000 will pay a student’s fees and tuition for one year.

To donate, please visit the American Indian College Fund’s website at www.collegefund.org.

Please also consider supporting the following American Indian higher education organizations:
Written by Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO, American Indian College Fund.

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