Thursday, December 16, 2010

Can Studying Abroad Help Keep Native American Students in College?

There will always be some students who enroll in college who sooner or later drop out before graduating. A number of reasons may account for these drop outs, such as, the inability to continue meeting the financial burdens of higher education, important family matters become a priority, or the thought that college is not for everyone. Although there are some very good and logical reasons to discontinue seeking a college degree, some barriers can be successfully removed. It is extremely important to remove the barriers in the way of obtaining a college degree for anyone who seeks it, specifically Native Americans, who have the highest rates of drop from high school and college.

While there are differences between retention rates in higher education for all student populations, related to demographics, the gap is paramount among African American, Hispanic, or Native American students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2002). According to Brown and Robinson Kurpius, (1997) 75 percent to 93 percent of Native Americans drop out of college prior to completion. The fact is, Native Americans, if they do get a high school diploma and begin attending college, have to the highest rate of drop from college than any other student.

There has been some studies looking at why Native students drop out and what to do about it, like here, here and here, just to identify a few of many.

A recent study looked at the impact of studying abroad has on student outcomes. Students, as part of their credit earning studies, can participate in a program that allows them to travel to another country in order to study a specific topic. Most of the cost is built into regular tuition that is already paid by the student. Any additional cost could be related to flights, food, or sometimes housing.

American universities and colleges have long been aware of the positive impact study abroad programs have on their students. According to McKeown (2009) those students who experience the opportunities presented in studying abroad results in intellectual gains, new global and cultural awareness’s, and personal development. A study conducted by the International Education of Students concluded that students who studied abroad experienced life changing events that have carried forward into later life.

In 2000, researchers with the GLOSSARI project started a large-scale effort to document the academic outcomes of studying abroad programs across the 35-institution University System of Georgia. Some ten years later, they discovered that “students who study abroad have improved academic performance upon returning to their home campus, higher graduation rates, and improved knowledge of cultural practices and context compared to students in control groups” (citation). It was also revealed that studying abroad helps, rather than hinders, academic performance of at-risk students, such as Native Americans.

According to a GLOSSARI associate it has always been the usual perception that students who are at risk of dropping out of college should be discouraged from studying abroad. However, this study finds that studying abroad can actually be an intervention to improve retention rates for college students. Studying abroad does not derail their educational efforts; rather, it actually focuses their scholarly works (cited).

If it is the case that studying abroad has a positive impact on students, like increasing the likelihood that Native Americans will remain in college and graduate, then by all means these studying abroad programs should be encouraged and made possible. Part of the Wolf-Fire Scholarship, long-term efforts is to financially assist students to study abroad. Helping to offset the cost of these studying abroad experiences will hopefully address the issues around Native American students dropping out of college, specifically UB.

Peace, DAP

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