Monday, April 1, 2013

American Indian/Alaskan Native Academic Social Context

This is not an April fools

There are many reasons why American Indian/Alaskan Natives drop out of college. Below are some results of a study I have been working on. Please note that this is a first rough draft but one that needs to reach as many people as possible in the hopes of better explaining this continued problem.

There is an established, historical literature indicating that individuals who obtain a college degree have significant health improvements over their life span compared to those without a college degree (1). They benefit from a College Degree Health Booster! They can also transfer that Health Booster back to their communities by completing college with a degree.

Regrettably, underrepresented minorities, especially American Indian/Alaskan Natives (AI/ANs), have very high college dropout rates (2). They do not benefit from this college degree health booster. That booster does not have the chance to be transferred back.

According to the United States Census Bureau, minorities comprised approximately 28 percent of the population (3). Minorities represent about the same rates in student populations of U.S. colleges and universities.

Currently, Whites make up about 60 percent of U.S. new college student enrollment, with African Americans representing about 14 percent, Hispanics making up about 13 percent and AI/ANs consisting of only about 0.8 percent of all college students nationwide (4).

Of the approximate 19 million college students in the United States, AI/AN students are the minority within the minority (5).

About 75 percent to 93 percent of AI/AN students drop out of college prior to degree completion (6). The fact is, if AI/AN students do get a high school diploma and begin attending college, they have the highest rate of dropping out of college compared to any other student demographic.

What happens during college is very important. Many studies try to explain college failures in the context of events in childhood and/or during high school. While those years are important, a very important factor is what is happening as someone is being a current college student.

The most powerful factor associated with college completion is being successful in college. What happening during the time when someone is a college students is much more powerful than before, or so I think.

There is a distinct and reliable relationship between academic performance (e.g., GPA) and college completion (see, 7-10). When GPA decreases, students drop out of college. On the other hand, if GPA is steady or rises, students are more likely to continue on in college.

The boundaries of academic and social activities create a context that promotes success in college. A successful academic-social context (ASC) is one that best serves the student in relation to academic performance – GPA.

For example, full-time attendance increases the likelihood that students will persist to graduation (9-15). If students can attend college full-time they can better focus fully on being a scholar. Full-time attenders have higher GPAs.

Students who are NOT in a relationship living together or who will NOT of do NOT become parents are more likely to graduate (7, 16). Again, the ASC is one that allows the student to be solely -- a student. Anything that takes the student away from being a fully focused student lowers the ASC and GPA. So, as this ASC continues, you will understand the relationship between a student's ASC and its impact on GPA.

Students who live on campus are more likely than those who live off campus to socialize as student learners, engage regularly with faculty, and have friends who are students. They are more likely to succeed (17-19).

Employment and hours worked per week are associated with college success (see, 20-22); the more time students have dedicated to scholarly efforts, the more beneficial it is to academic success.

Students who volunteer benefit personally and academically from those experiences. Many youth are eager to volunteer their time and make meaningful contributions to their society (23). Having the opportunity to connect with and put into practice their own values improves a student’s prospects both personally and academically (24).

A student’s health and wellness have been clearly linked to academic success (25-29).

It is important to understand the academic-social context (ASC) of the student. Having a good ASC increases the likelihood of having a higher GPA thereby increasing the possibility of remaining in, and successfully completing college. Again, the college graduate has a lifetime health benefit!

The present study used data with permission from the American College Health Association (ACHA).  These data were collected via four administrations of the National College Health Assessment (NCHA; Fall 2008, Spring 2009, Fall 2009, and Fall 2010), a bi-annual survey the ACHA has administered since 2000. 

There were a total of 116,992 students responding to the surveys. On the race question, students could check more than one response. The sample were broken up into three groups, those checking as AI/AN only, those who checked AI/AN and White only, and everyone else. Students who checked AI/AN mainly reports either solely AI/AN or  AI/AN and White only.  While there were a few AI/AN and Black or Latino, for example, just the two biggest groups are used here. Below is the table with responses and measures of ASC.

All Else
AI/AN only
AI/AN & White
All Else %
AI/AN only %
AI/AN & White %
Effect size
Relationship involvement
Not in a relationship
In relationship, living together
Current Residence***
Paid Work***
1-9 hrs.
10-19 hrs.
20+ hrs.
No Volunteer Work

Note. *p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.

As it relates to a positive ASC, those students who report being AI/AN or AI/AN and White have a lower ASC. That is, percentage wise, they are attending college at a lesser rate than full-time, they are in a relationship, they are living away from campus, and they are working as well as going to college. They are in the context that does not best promote higher GPAs and successful completion. And the differences are statistically significant. The effect sizes are small, so there are other important factors missing.  

So, I looked at other possible factors that impact GPA and what is happening within the past 12 months in their lives, such as experiencing violence and/or emotional issues. Below is the table showing those factors. The first column identifies the issue and the impact on GPA. For instance, experiencing a physical fight lowers GPA by .23. Looking at the first roll, a little over 8% (8.24) of all other groups in college report being in a physical fight in the past 12 months. Almost 12% (11.61) of AI/ANs report being in a fight in the past 12 months. And about the same amount (11.79) of AI/AN & White students report being in a fight in the past 12 months.

What this shows is that students who report being fully or partly AI/ANs experience significantly more physical fights than any other group on campus. And recall, students who have these experiences, results in the lowering of their GPA by almost a 1/4 point. 

As you look down at the rest you will see the same pattern.

Rates and Impact of Violence past 12 months

Item Label (Impact on GPA)
All else
AI/AN & White
ChiSq (pval)
In physical
Fight (-.23)
9498 (8.24%)
57 (11.61%)
110 (11.79%)
Physically assaulted
5495 (4.77%)
41 (8.35%)
75 (8.05%)
Verbally threatened
26870 (23.32%)
138 (28.22%)
317 (34.01%)
Sexually touched w/o consent
8309 (7.21%)
38 (7.74%)
101 (10.83%)
18.18 (.000)
Sexual penetration attempted w/o consent
3129 (2.72%)
17 (3.47%)
37 (3.97%)
Victim of stalking
8239 (7.17%)
57 (11.63%)
105 (11.27%)
37.51 (.000)
In emotionally abusive relationship
11581 (10.06%)
71 (14.46%)
121 (12.97%)
18.97 (.000)
Physically abusive relationship
2691 (2.34%)
28 (5.70%)
26 (2.79%)
24.79 (.000)

Have you ever felt
Item Label
All else
AI/AN & White
ChiSq (pval)
things were hopeless
54626 (47.62%)
254 (52.26%)
480 (51.61%)
10.02 (.007)
93874 (81.63%)
396 (81.15%)
813 (87.14%)
18.86 (.000)
very lonely
68200 (59.27%)
264 (54.21%)
602 (64.59%)
16.08 (.000)
very sad
72380 (63.06%)
308 (62.99%)
642 (69.11%)
14.45 (.001)
so depressed difficult to function
34637 (30.14%)
173 (35.52%)
335 (35.94%)
21.35 (.000)
overwhelming anxiety
56289 (48.97%)
236 (48.66%)
502 (53.98%)
9.30 (.010)
overwhelming anger
44895 (39.18%)
214 (43.76%)
426 (45.91%)
21.67 (.000)
Intentionally injured self
6385 (5.55%)
34 (6.94%)
82 (8.80%)
20.21 (.000)
Seriously considered suicide
7171 (6.23%)
35 (7.14%)
76 (8.15%)
6.51 (.039)
Attempted suicide
1264 (1.10%)
11 (2.24%)
16 (1.72%)
8.98 (.011)

Within past 12 months have you been diagnosed or treated for

Item Label
All else
AI/AN & White
ChiSq (pval)
9944 (8.67%)
38 (7.79%)
106 (11.45%)
9.40 (.009)
2920 (2.55%)
17 (3.50%)
44 (4.74%)
19.36 (.000)
Panic attacks
5163 (4.49%)
33 (6.76%)
69 (7.42%)
23.94 (.000)

Within past 12 months did <item> affect your academic performance

Item Label
All else
AI/AN & White
ChiSq (pval)
48835 (42.70%)
205 (42.27%)
491 (52.91%)
39.24 (.000)
Assault (physical)
3898 (3.41%)
38 (7.84%)
48 (5.19%)
36.96 (.000)
Assault (sexual)
3983 (3.49%)
28 (5.79%)
49 (5.29%)
16.22 (.000)
26623 (23.33%)
134 (27.69%)
283 (30.56%)
31.78 (.000)


As the tables show, again, AI/AN or AI/AN and White students experience significantly more violence and emotional events compared to all other college students. Students whose identify as being fully and partly AI/AN have a significantly poorer context in colleges/universities. That is, they do not attend full-time, they have the extra burden of being in a relationship, they live away from campus, and they are working in addition to being a scholar. This ASC lowers GPA. Furthermore, their ASC is one that experiences physical and sexual violence as well as emotional problems. These additional issues greatly lower GPA – and overall health and wellness.

Is there any wonder why AI/AN students do not remain in college and successfully complete? Their academic-social context is very poor. Being a successful student (e.g., getting and maintaining a high GPA) is a great challenge. Having the additional burdens of a poor ASC seems to result in dropping out of higher education. And who could blame them?
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