The trend of increased retention rates amongst Native American students at the University of South Dakota has held true for the 2012-13 academic year.
Native American Student Services reports the retention rate for Native American students was 98 percent for 2012-13, which is a 13 percent increase from the 2011-12 academic year.
With a retention rate of just 28 percent in 2005-06, USD has seen dramatic improvement in the number of Native American students opting to return to school the following year.
In 2006-07, rates spiked to 60 percent and continued to rise year-by-year until reaching 98 percent in 2012-13.
According to the Journal of Counseling and Development,”the national retention rate for Native American students is 15 percent.
USD’s Institutional Research department reported 134 undergraduates who identified themselves as Native American last fall, percent of the USD student body.
Gene Thin Elk, director of Native American Student Services, said four years ago there was an average of 15 first-year Native American students, a high of 22 students in total, with only two students returning to USD.
Thin Elk attributes the high retention rate to proactive programs scheduled throughout the academic year.
“We are being very proactive and succeeding because of the Native American Cultural Center,” Thin Elk said. “You really need to have the appropriate services for the student, for their culture and value orientation in place to create a sense of belonging. If not, it creates a lot of stress. The students can come and speak their own language, and they say, ‘I can actually be who I am.’ It makes it so they can live here and survive out there.”
Thin Elk also attributes the boom to USD Admissions, who visit reservations in an attempt to recruit students, and said he hopes to see 150 to 200 first-year students attending and staying at the university in the near future.
“I think retention of any student is vital,” Thin Elk said. “Native American students deal with issues mainstream society doesn’t have to deal with.”
Some of those issues, Thin Elk said, include problems with mathematics, family and monetary issues.
“The myth is that native students go to college for free,” Thin Elk said.
Trevor Kindle plans to attend medical school in the fall and is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe. Kindle said he feels he undergoes many of the same challenges as other USD students.
“Pretty much like everyone else, I live from refund check to refund check,” Kindle said. “But, I still pay some tuition and get scholarships just like everyone else.”
Like Thin Elk, Kindle sees great value in the Native American Cultural Center.
“The cultural center is a great bonus,” Kindle said. “You can come and do your homework.”
Jesus Trevino, the associate vice president for Diversity, said programs such as success luncheons, FAFSA guidance and grants providing for child care services help with the retention of Native American students.
“Our efforts are based on a success model, not a deficit model,” Trevino said. “These are very talented Native American students coming to the university. We are in the business of keeping them here.”
According to the American Indian Education Foundation, 17 percent of Native American high school students will attend college, and of the 17 percent, only 1 percent will earn a bachelor’s degree.
Jason Murray, the associate director for Diversity said by bringing students together, it helps Native Americans feel like collectivists and feed off each other’s energy.
“The idea is that you get students together, and it leads to community building, networking and fellowshipping,” Murray said.
Trevino said the success model helps to get basic problems out of the way for students as opposed to focusing on a victim mentality.
In addition, the Student Tracking Advocacy and Retention Committee is developing a data tracker system designed specifically for Native American students. The tracker would create a database for tracking retention.
Murray said the system may solve tracking problems contained in the current system, where students can identify as either Native American or multiracial.
When students identify themselves as multi-racial, it takes them out of that data set and creates problems when tracking their retention.
For instance, Institutional Research reported only 33 first-year Native American students, as opposed to Native American Student Services’ 57.
An interactive workshop featuring Hilary Weaver, Associate Dean for Academic Affiars at the University of Buffalo centering on recruiting and retaining Native American students will take place on Feb. 14.