handwritten list in 13-year-old Emerette Frank's binder keeps her
focused on her strategy for getting to college:
watch TV until all work is done.
of Northern California's Washoe Indian tribe, she has high hopes
of attending a top university.
make it. She's part of a small but growing number of American Indian
students setting sights on a college degree.
trying to beat the odds.
Indians have consistently composed the smallest fraction of college
students in San Diego County and nationwide, usually less than 1
those numbers reflect their correspondingly small slice of the general
population, the growth in number of Indians graduating from college
is being far outpaced by other groups.
past quarter-century, American Indians' share of all degrees granted
grew from 0.4 percent to 0.7 percent. In that same period, bachelor's
degrees earned by Hispanics increased from 2 percent to 6.2 percent,
according to the National Center for Education Statistics.
share of degrees jumped from 1.5 percent to 6.3 percent, and blacks'
portion grew from 6.4 percent to 8.9 percent.
white students' portion of degrees dropped from 88 percent to 74.5
Indians, the long-term consequence of the low figures can be stifling,
especially as they evolve and become more interactive with the outside
by casinos and other developments, tribes for the first time are
becoming major players in business, politics and the non-Indian
communities around them.
educators worry that without a college education, the next generation
of leaders won't be as prepared to run their businesses, protect
their legal rights and improve their reservations.
the best things about college, they say, is that it teaches students
about a world bigger than the one they come from.
educators attribute low Indian enrollment to many factors, starting
with generations of isolation, poverty and low self-esteem.
communal ties to "the rez" make students reluctant to
go off to college. The pattern has been reinforced, local scholars
say, by public school teachers who don't push Indians toward the
college-prep track and by universities offering little to pull them
may be changing, through outreach programs, community colleges and
a growing awareness among Indian youth that they can help their
tribes by educating themselves.
of our history of failure in formal education, it's not something
we'll be able to turn around overnight," said Gerald Gipp,
executive director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium,
based in Virginia. "But we're making good gains and seeing
more people graduate."
Gipp says the low college rates for Indians have a historical context.
From the 1800s, Indian children were forcibly sent to boarding schools
under federal policies to assimilate them into America's melting
1960s, self-determination reforms spurred creation of the first
tribal colleges, specialized community colleges on reservations
that serve as a bridge to four-year institutions.
colleges, numbering 58 nationwide, are expanding educational frontiers
for thousands of Indians. But they're having only limited success
in spurring transfers to larger universities.
University of California San Diego, where American Indians made
up less than 1 percent of last year's undergraduates, Geneva Lofton
Fitzsimmons' job is to drive those numbers higher.
member of North County's La Jolla Indian band, Fitzsimmons grapples
with three obstacles: public schools that steer Indians toward less-rigorous
work, tribal mentality that sets the high school diploma as the
main goal and universities that lack courses or an environment to
attract Indian students.
17, a member of the San Pasqual band near Valley Center, remembers
the third-grade teacher who told him and three cousins they wouldn't
amount to anything. "We were late to class, and she told us
we were going to end up in Juvenile Hall," he said. "She
said we were no good."
listen. The lanky kid with the long ponytail made the tough screening
to get into a UCSD summer program called Young Native Scholars.
For two weeks in August, Chavez and 23 other teens lived on campus,
exploring technology, native culture and physical fitness in a program
intended to whet their interest in college.
has his sights set on UC Santa Cruz, then Harvard Law School. But
he and others in the UCSD program said many of their peers aren't
pursuing higher education.
of my friends, they want to go out and party. Getting an education
is not as important," said Beda Calac, 17, of Rincon. None
of her three older siblings finished high school, but she intends
to go on to study performing arts and psychology.
Lomayesva, who runs a mentor-tutoring program for reservation youth
at San Diego State University, says most Indians don't grow up expecting
to attend college.
families raise their kids, it's not like they have that much exposure
to the college atmosphere or what higher education is all about,"
he said. "They're more inclined to say, 'If you graduate (high
school), that's the greatest thing in the world.' "
Of a typical
high school graduating class, maybe one-third of Indian students
will attend a community college, but only a fraction will go on
to a four-year university, said Lorraine Orosco, who runs a tribal
education center serving eight North County reservations.
students and professors don't understand how deeply tied American
Indians are to their extended families and the tribal community,
as Orosco experienced firsthand when she commuted from the San Pasqual
reservation to UCSD in the early '90s.
had to miss class for family gatherings, tribal meetings or funerals
that lasted for days.
to UCSD and even being that close to home, I can tell you it was
a lonely place," she said. "There was nothing that reinforced
Native American culture."
Indians who go beyond high school opt for community colleges, such
as Palomar College or Sycuan's tribally affiliated DQ University.
Those schools help Indian students retain their cultural identity,
said Linda Locklear, a Lumbee Indian and a professor in Palomar's
American Indian Studies department.
Palomar, which has satellite campuses on some North County reservations,
most universities don't have Indian language courses or Indian studies
majors. And they tend to have few, if any, Indian faculty members,
not surprised about the local figures.
American Indian undergraduate enrollment fell from 127 a decade
ago to 91 last year. At SDSU, it has dropped 16 percent, to 199,
since 1995. Cal State San Marcos had 40 American Indian students
seven years ago; it had 44 last year.
an American Indian studies minor, but most of the 400 students taking
those classes are non-Indian, department chairwoman Linda Parker
students want relevant courses, Palomar's Locklear said.
are not going to get a college degree and move to Los Angeles and
get a job working in a bank," she said. "They need to
be trained in jobs that people in the (tribal) community can benefit
San Diego County's emergence as the state's Indian gaming capital,
with nine casinos, is a double-edged sword.
On the one hand, casinos generate money for tribal members' college
tuition, books and fees. They also fund tribal education programs
to shepherd wayward youth and steer high-achievers toward college.
tribes require only a high school education for members to be eligible,
at age 18, for casino dividends called "per capita" payments.
on the tribe, the size of the casino and how long the casino has
been in business, per capita can range from a few hundred to several
thousand dollars a month. Plus, 18-year-olds get huge lump payments
of funds set aside during their childhood.
can stifle ambitions.
educators hear students say they won't need college or even a job;
they'll have per capita.
message that we're trying to present is we all need that education
for protection of our sovereignty and our water rights," UCSD's
Fitzsimmons said. "We need to speak for ourselves and run our
who want to go to college, the competition is increasingly fierce.
More seniors than ever are graduating from high school, making it
harder to get into top universities.
state budget cuts are forcing California universities to decrease
enrollment while raising student fees as much as 30 percent.
Tribal educators are optimistic that gains can be made, especially
as they see more students earn degrees and return as mentors and
graduates are leading outreach programs such as the one at UCSD,
helping younger tribal members aim for college.
like 17-year-old Rosie Clayburn, it involves challenges as basic
as going three days between calls home to her reservation on the
California-Oregon border. "It's pretty hard," she said,
"but I think it's good preparation."
of the Indian education consortium, expects the numbers to gradually
increase, in "a long, slow, frustrating process."
in the UCSD program, like Emerette with her notebook list, hope
to change the statistics one at a time.
want to go to Harvard and be a tribal lawyer," she said. "I
want to be the first girl in my family to do something challenging."