Saturday, March 12, 2011

Native American College Dropout -- The Problem, Solution and Plan of Action

Several years ago an elder told me that the best way to solve a problem is to determine the exact nature of that problem, identify the solution, and establish a plan of action that systematically moves you from the problem, to the solution. Understanding the problem is the most important part of solving it. Trying to solve a misunderstood problem is futile and often times could make the problem worse. For instance, when we go to the doctor for a certain health issue, the doctor does not jump directly to a solution. It is important to clearly understand the problem as the solution is ultimately dependent on knowing exactly what the problem is.

This problem solving technique seems to work as long as the problem is diagnosed correctly. As an example, if you went to the doctor suffering from the Flu and your doctor indicated that s/he thought your problem was sever constipation, although the plan of action might provide some bowel relief, the doctor’s diagnosis is wrong – the solution will be wrong – and the plan of action will be wrong, and you will continue suffering from the original problem.

The final important point my elder friend wanted to express is that once the problem and solution are settled, the plan of action most be followed and completed. Let’s say your doctor did get your problem correct and determined that you have the Flu. S/he would explain the solution, followed by laying out a specific plan of action. If you left the doctor’s office and followed that plan, which might consist of taking a prescribed medicine, drinking plenty of fluids, resting, etc., you would be on the road to recovery. It seems most folks, once they begin to feel better, slack off on following the plan. For example, if you have ever suffered from an infection, the medication plan requires that every pill be taken, if not, the infection could return stronger and even harder to treat. It is vital that the plan of action that solves the problem is followed all the way through.


Self-identified Native American students throughout the State University of New York (SUNY) system on average, have the highest college dropout rate compared to any other student group within that system. SUNY has done a very good job with collecting student data over the years. I requested student information and was provided data spanning from 1984 through 2007. Below are some results from those 23 years for students entering SUNY beginning in 1984.

Student Dropout percentage from lowest to highest:

Asian-Pacific Islander:                          35%
White:                                                  37%
Unknown:                                             44%
Hispanic:                                              50%
International:                                         51%
Black:                                                   53%
American Indian/Alaskan Native:          57%

The data sheet can be reviewed HERE. Not only do Native American students drop out of college at very high rates, they make up the fewest amount of students on SUNY campuses. From 1984 until 2007 a total of 503 self-identified Natives enrolled in a SUNY program. In those same years or so, about 216 Native Americans graduated (43%).

The exact nature of the problem is – a significant number of Native American students who enter a SUNY program drop out before obtaining a degree.


Establish a collaborative, community-based bridge from high school to college and when a Native American enrolls in a SUNY program, encircle a variety of support systems around him/her. 

There are a few simple things that can be done to greatly increase the likelihood that Native American students who enroll in college will complete. With the help from community leaders and SUNY academic representatives the Native American Center for Wellness Research (NACWR) intends to move forward with a plan of action that will solve this problem.


1. Study Abroad Program

A study abroad program (SAP) is being developed by NACWR. I have discussed the benefits of students experiencing a SAP in an earlier post so I won’t go into depth again. However, I would like to restate a scientific-based conclusion -- students who complete a SAP and are considered high-risk for dropout, remain in school and complete. SAP’s change student’s lives for the better and makes them stronger students and community members.

I will be traveling to Ireland next month and meeting with a professor at Galway University to set up a four-week, six credit earning program. In that earlier post I reported that NACWR was applying for a UB grant that would support the development of a SAP. That grant was not awarded.

2.  100 Haudenosaunee SUNY Degrees by 2020    

NACWR is currently working on a grant to support an initiative called 100 Haudenosaunee SUNY Degrees by 2020. Part of this initiative will be to coordinate the first annual Haudenosaunee Educational Summit held in May of 2012. The main purpose of the project is to gather SUNY and Haudenosaunee representatives in order to discuss and design a long-term structure that will smoothly and strategically guide Haudenosaunee youths into SUNY colleges, resulting in 100 degrees completed by 2020. The first summit will be held on the University at Buffalo, SUNY campus. Representatives from the Western and Central SUNY systems will be invited to participate. These representatives will include admissions, affirmative action and diversity, educational opportunity, student recruitment, and any other interested worker. Haudenosaunee representatives will also be invited. For instance, Chiefs, Clan Mothers, elected leaders, educational representatives, community leaders, and parents will be asked to participate. This proposed project will establish a university-community partnership that will pave the way for our community’s most underrepresented student population to enter, remain, and complete a SUNY college degree. The Haudenosaunee Educational Summit will be an annual event for folks to gather in order to ensure that the bridge from high school to college is clear and sound for our youths to travel.  During the summit, targeted, yearly outcomes will be set, measured and adjusted.  

3. Increase Donations to Wolf-Fire Scholarship

Finally, I am vigorously working on raising funds for the Wolf-Fire Scholarship. These donations will be used to support SUNY students carry out their work in Native American/First Nations communities. There is very good scholarly work being done by students who need a little financial assistance. These funds will also be used to help Native American students study abroad. Although regular tuition will pay for much of the program, additional funds are needed in order to pay for any “out of pocket” costs for students. Additionally, these funds will support the annual Haudenosaunee Educational Summit being developed. It must be stated that I have no clue how to best raise funds. What I hope to accomplish is to engage folks and create opportunities for them to fulfill their own personal purposes.

The solution and plan of action can not solely depend on SUNY grant money. Although NACWR will continue to target and apply for grants, we must not allow our work to be judged and determined by the measures of others!  

Concluding Thoughts

If a motivated community comes together around an agreed upon problem, solution, and plan of action, our Native American youths will be significantly benefited. I will be the first to admit that I take for granted the idea behind our responsibility for the next Seven Generations. These proposals are a great opportunity to act on this Principle and positively impact our next leaders.

If you are in a position to support these proposals, I strongly encourage you join us. It will take much work and commitment on our part to solve this problem. I think I heard someone say something like – If not you, who? If not now, when? I have had the honor to work with many people who are committed to being the generation that will not ignore the problems of the next. Please consider joining us.

If you would like to financially help support our plan of action below is a link to the Wolf-Fire Scholarship. It is very simple and safe and best of all tax free. Thank you very much.

Peace, DAP

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