restricted access Chapter 9: Moving beyond Financial Aid to Support Native College Students: An Examination of the Gates Millennium Scholars Program
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124 c h a p t e r 9 Moving beyond Financial Aid to Support Native College Students an examination of the gates millennium scholars program Natalie Rose Youngbull (Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma) The Gates Millennium Scholarship Program (GMSP) was founded in 1999 and promised to fund 20,000 high-­ achieving, community-­ oriented, and engaged scholars in 20 years. The Gates Millennium Scholarship is both merit-­ based and need-­ based; recipients demonstrated high academic merit and involvement throughout high school and proved substantial financial need. As high-­ achieving and low-­income students, recipients are able to attend their first choice institution with the scholarship funding. GMSP quickly became recognized as one of the most competitive and prestigious scholarships to receive, and those recipients of the scholarship were welcomed into the Gates family. Annually, 1,000 scholars were awarded the scholarship and 150 of those scholars were American Indian. Every year, Indian Country celebrated the incoming class of American Indian Gates Millennium Scholars (AIGMS) for their accomplishments and potential influence within higher education and their respective tribal communities. AIGMS carried the hopes and dreams of their families and communities as they embarked on their journeys into higher education. Throughout the years, the GMSP has achieved an impressive overall five-­ year graduation rate of 82.2% among all four racial/ethnic cohorts (GMSP website, n.d.). Yet, of the four racial/ethnic cohorts, the American Indian cohort boasted the lowest overall graduation rate (S. Abbott, personal communication, fall 2009). Thus far, existing research has identified several factors that play into an American Indian student’s persistence within higher education, such as family support, involvement with the Native community on campus, and maintaining spirituality (Jackson, Smith, & Hill, 2003). What has not been thoroughly Moving beyond Financial Aid 125 examined in previous studies is the influence of academic merit on the persistence of American Indian students as incoming freshmen to institutions of higher education. Literature focusing on high-­ achieving American Indian students is lacking, as the American Indian college student population traditionally has been considered to be too small a group to partition out into specific groups. Lack of academic preparation has been noted as a nonpersistence factor for American Indian students (Brown & Kurpius, 1997; Fann, 2002), but research is necessary to show if this has the same meaning for high-­ achieving American Indian students. Another area that has not been explored as a major factor of nonpersistence is American Indian students’ financial aid status. Financial difficulties have also been linked to the attrition of American Indian students (Guillory & Wolverton, 2008), but there is a need to study the impact of substantial financial aid on American Indian students’ nonpersistence in college. Academic merit and financial aid are two important aspects for all students’ success in their journey through higher education (Perna, 2006; Roderick, Nagaoka, & Coca, 2009), and are especially important factors to take into account when an American Indian student decides to leave college before graduation. Though the GMSP addresses two of the largest barriers identified for Native students, some AIGMS still do not persist. The issues of nonpersistence of American Indian Gates Millennium Scholars have yet to be explored. The purpose of this study was to gain a greater understanding of why 20 American Indian college students who were high-­ achieving and received the Gates Millennium scholarship did not persist to graduation. To achieve this greater understanding from an Indigenous perspective , it was important to utilize existing theoretical frameworks developed by Native scholars that employed critical, culturally sensitive lenses for the analysis. Additionally, centering on the participants’ stories was an Indigenous methodological approach used to focus on building relationships and sharing knowledge to understand participants’ experiences. Review of Literature American Indian College Student Educational Pathways This section provides an insight into the current statistics of American Indian college student enrollment trends, educational achievements, and the type of institutions attended. Overall, the enrollment of American Indian college students has more than doubled over the past 30 years (Devoe, Darling-­Churchill, & Snyder, 2008). The rates of American Indians who have attained a bachelor’s degree range from 4% to 9.3%, while 20–­ 27% of the general population has attained the same degree (Jackson & Turner, 2004; Native American Higher Education Initiative, 2005). In sum, American Indian students are matriculating to 126 Natalie Rose Youngbull college at a higher rate than ever before, yet still lagging behind in representation and completion within institutions of higher education. Examining the type of institutions American Indian college students are...