Utah State University is setting a good example of how to help those who have often been ignored regarding a college education.
American Indians have the highest dropout rate of any ethnic group in the United States in kindergarten through 12th grade. Most of those who do graduate and go to college also drop out at that level before obtaining a degree. They therefore are unable to serve their own people and society at large as effectively as they could with a degree.
USU encourages the enrollment of American Indians and is particularly pleased that this fall up to 15 Ute Indian students enrolled. This will enable them to have a sense of belonging, critical to their success, according to Everardo Martinez-Inzunza, director of the USU Multicultural Center.
To assist American Indians, USU has developed special counseling and support programs to help them make the transition into college. Class schedules are arranged to put the students in the same classes when possible and clustered housing has also been provided to make them feel more comfortable.
But even more than that, USU has made a concerted effort to identify potential college students. Martinez-Inzunza and others representing USU, including student leaders, have traveled by van to various reservations in Utah, Idaho and Arizona, to recruit students.
A critical component for success at the college or university level is preparation at the elementary, junior high and high school levels.
Uintah River High School in Duchesne, where about 80 percent of the student body is American Indian, has requested and received charter school status in order to better serve its population.
The school has a longer day — from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. — and parents are required to become involved. Field trips to institutions of higher education, including USU, expose students to post-high school opportunities.
The younger the American Indian students are prepared the better their chances are to have a successful experience at a college or university.
It's like Kathy Cochrane, Unitah River principal, noted: "Education is their way out of poverty."