22-4 “Honoring Student Success” Resource Guide

Volume 22, No. 4 - Summer 2011
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Resource Guide Related to Retention, Persistence, and Success of American Indian and Alaska Native students

Also see Juan A. Avila Hernandez’s article, “Empowering Students for Success—College share best practices for keeping students on track” in Vol. 18, No. 1 of Tribal College Journal.  Soon, subscribers can read more of TCJ’s past coverage of retention and student success by visiting our online archives at: http://tribalcollegejournal.org//archives/category/themagazine/archivestoc

Primary Data

U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. Status and trends in the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008.
Available at:  http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=2008084

This report provides basic data concerning the educational status of American Indian/Alaska Native children and adults.

Policy and Advocacy Reports

Brayboy, B.M.K. (2006). Indigenous men in higher education. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Health Policy Institute.

This paper addresses the phenomenon of college enrollment and college completion of Indigenous men. While noting the paucity of data specific to the retention of American Indian males, the author identifies five prominent factors that impact success of American Indian postsecondary students.

Institute for Higher Education Policy (2007). The path of many journeys: The benefits of higher education for Native people and communities.

The focus of this report is the importance of investment in higher education of American Indian and Alaska Natives.  Additionally, the report provides data concerning American Indian students who enroll in college as well as an overview of the importance of tribal colleges.

Trujillo, O.V., D.A. Alston (2005). A report on the status of American Indians and Alaska Natives in education: Historical legacy to cultural empowerment. National Educational Association.

While this report contains old data, it provides a historical overview of the educational attainment and performance of American Indians and Alaska Natives from K-12. The focus is primarily primary and secondary schools, but the timeline of American Indian education, data about secondary school completion, and recommendations for practice are pertinent to postsecondary education.

Classic Research on Retention of American Indian Postsecondary Students

Early research on retention of American Indian/ Alaska Native students tended to focus on the characteristics of students who did or did not persist in postsecondary education. This series of articles is listed in chronological order, as it is interesting to follow the development of research related to retention of these students.

Patton, W., E.D. Edington (1973). Factors related to the persistence of Indian students at college level. Journal of American Indian Education [electronic version], 12(3).
This purpose of this early study was to identify factors related to persistence of American Indian students in higher education. The study is interesting in its attempts to “classify” students and look only at student characteristics, with no discussion of institutional characteristics, programs, or the interaction between students and their educational environment.

Falk, D.R., L.P. Aitken (1984). Promoting retention among American Indian college students. Journal of American Indian Education [electronic version], 23(2).
This qualitative study reported factors perceived by educators and students as significant for retention of American Indian students. Students reported that lack of academic preparation, inadequate financial support, lack of study skills, and inadequate career preparation in high school were among the factors that impacted their success. Educators reported that good academic preparation in high school, personal motivation, adequate financial support, and the presence of faculty/staff who are American Indian was important to American Indian student retention.

Hoover, J.J., & Jacobs, C.C. (1992). A survey of American Indian college students: Perceptions toward their study skills/college life. Journal of American Indian Education, 32(1), 21-29.
This survey research studied the perceptions of American Indian college/university students concerning college instruction, attendance at college, and study skills. There is a limited discussion of implications for practice.

Benjamin, D.P., Chambers, S., et al. (1993). A focus on American Indian college persistence. Journal of American Indian Education 32(2) : 24-40.
This research focused on factors that lead to persistence of American Indian college students.  Using a longitudinal, mixed methods design, researchers examined academic persistence of 166 American Indian students primarily from southwestern tribes. Pre-entry data, such as high school graduation rank percentile, did not correlate with persistence. Follow-up qualitative interviews with students who persisted to graduation suggested that issues such as acculturation, personal commitment to school, self-perception, and obligations to family/community were important. The authors concluded that “it may be that higher education is not sufficiently informed and sensitive enough to recognize or to value this culture’s multi-faceted manifestation of persistence behaviors.”

Dodd, J.M., Garcia, F.M., et al. (1995). American Indian student retention. NASPA Journal 33: 72-78.
Many studies of American Indian student retention have focused on student deficits. This qualitative study focused on American Indian students who had successfully persisted to the senior year of college at a state-supported college in Montana. Students reported external and internal factors that contributed to their success, including determination, ability to cope with racial and cultural differences, family encouragement, and presence of support systems. The study reinforced the importance of faculty involvement as well as appropriate levels of student support services in retention programming.

Fore, C.L., & Chaney, J.M. (1998). Factors influencing the pursuit of educational opportunities in American Indian students. American Indian and Alaska Native Mental Health Reserch. 8(2), 46-55.
In this quantitative study of 19 students participating in a Job Corps program, researchers used components of the Non-cognitive Questionnaire (NCQ, Tracy & Sedlacek 1987) to study factors related to students’ decisions to pursue higher education. Significant differences included presence of a mentor or other individual who strongly supported students’ academic goals, as well as the realistic self-appraisal factor on the NCQ.

Gloria, A.M., & Robinson-Kurpuis, S.E. (2001). Influences of self-beliefs, social support, and comfort in the university environment on the academic non-persistence decisions of American Indian undergraduates. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 7(1): 88-102.
This study examined the correlation of non-cognitive factors with the academic non-persistence decisions of American Indian college students. Non-cognitive variables were drawn from the literature. Lack of self-efficacy, social support, and comfort in the university environment were significant predictors of non-persistence. Recommendations for practice are provided, including suggestions for faculty and university-level interventions.

Cole, J.S., and G.M. Denzine (2002). Comparing the academic engagement of American Indian and White college students. Journal of American Indian Education, 41(1).
The purpose of this study was to compare the level of participation in academically related activities between American Indian and non-Indian college students. Chickering and Gamson’s Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education were used as a conceptual framework. Study participants were 74 American Indian and 74 self-identified White students from a large, Southwestern public university.  There were few differences in the reported college experiences between the two groups of students. For example, both groups reported “occasional” interaction with faculty members and “occasionally to often” use of active-learning techniques in class. While the authors report a low retention rate at the study institution, they suggest that their study “contradicts the suggestion…that student-faculty contact…is very important to American Indian students.”  However, there is no further attempt to gauge or hypothesize the impact of increased faculty-student contact or other student engagement practices on student retention.

Retention Models and Intervention Strategies

Fox, M.J.T., Lowe, S.C., and McClellan, G.S. (Eds.) (2005). Serving Native American Students. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
This volume of New Directions for Student Services is entirely focused on Native American students.

Guillory, R.M., & Wolverton, M. (2008). It’s about family: Native American student persistence in higher education. The Journal of Higher Education. 79(1), 58-87.
This article presents findings from a study examining the similarities and differences between Native American student perceptions and the perceptions of state representatives, university presidents, and faculty about persistence factors and barriers to degree completion specific to Native American students at three land-grant universities in Washington, Idaho, and Montana.

Heavy Runner, I., & DeCelles, R. (2002).  Family education model: Meeting the student retention challenge. Journal of American Indian Education [electronic version], 41(2).
This article presents the Family Education Model, an intervention-based model for retention of American Indian students. The model suggests that maintaining a sense of extended family structure within the college environment increases American Indian student’s sense of belonging and consequently leads to higher retention rates.

Lee, J., Donlan, W., Brown, E.F. (2010-2011). American Indian/Alaskan Native undergraduate retention at predominantly White institutions: An elaboration of Tinto’s theory of college student departure. Journal of College Student Retention: Research, Theory and Practice, 12(3), 257-276.
This article reports findings from a major public university-sponsored study undertaken with the intention of (a) improving university understanding of factors affecting American Indian/Alaskan Native undergraduates’ persistence at this institution and (b) identifying in what areas, and in what manner, this institution could improve campus-based services to better support American Indian/ Alaska Native undergraduates.

Lundberg, C.A. (2007). Student involvement and institutional commitment to diversity as predictors of Native American student learning. Journal of College Student Development, 48(4), 405-416.
Using a national sample (n = 643) of American Indian students who took the College Student Experiences Questionnaire (CSEQ), the researcher identified how student involvement and institutional commitment to diversity predicted student learning.

Pavel, M.D. (1999). American Indians and Alaska Natives in higher education: Promoting access and achievement. In K.G. Swisher and J.W. Tippeconnic (Eds.), Next steps: Research and practice to advance Indian education, 239-258. Charleston, WV: ERIC Clearinghouse on Rural Education and Small Schools. ERIC Document 427912.
This chapter draws on an extensive literature review to examine factors that influence the access and achievement of American Indians and Alaska Natives in higher education.

Shotton, H.J., Oosahwe, E.S.L.,Cintron, R. (2007). Stories of success: Experiences of American Indian students in a peer-mentoring retention program. The Review of Higher Education, 31(1), 81-107.
Employing a phenomenological approach, this study explored the experiences of American Indian college students in a peer-mentoring retention program at one university.

Retention of Postsecondary Students in Specific Academic Disciplines

Lopez, N. (2010). What dental schools can learn from college experiences of American Indian students. Journal of Dental Education, 74(4):381-91.
This qualitative study used interviews to explore the positive and negative experiences of 30 American Indian college students studying at a large public university. The intent was to identify challenges they face and factors that contribute to their resilience and persistence in their education.

Thomason, T.C. (1999). Improving the recruitment and retention of Native American students in psychology. Cultural Diversity and Ethnic Minority Psychology, 5(4), 308-316.

Manifold, C., & Rambur, B. (2001). Predictors of attrition in American Indian nursing students. Journal of Nursing Education, 40(1), 279-281.

More Recent Reviews of Research and Other Literature

Larimore, J.A., & McClellan, G.S. (2005). Native American student retention in U.S. postsecondary education. New Directions for Student Services, 109:17-32.
This chapter of an edited volume of work related to American Indian student retention provides an extensive review of pertinent literature. The review is categorized by retention theories, individual factors in student persistence, institutional factors in student persistence, and the role of faculty and staff. Recommendations for student service practices are provided, including the need for a coordinated, comprehensive approach.

Williams, R., & Pewewardy, C. (2009).  In L.S. Warner and G.E. Gipp (Eds.), Student retention initiatives at tribal colleges and universities and strategies for improvement.  Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Publishing, Inc.
This work provides the historical and current context of retention initiatives at tribal colleges. The authors present a succinct summary of factors related to retention of American Indian students, including academic preparedness, campus climate, and academic/social integration. Included is a summary of tribal college initiatives and strategies to increase retention.

Hunt, B., & Harrington, C.F. (2010). The impending education crisis for American Indians: Higher education at the crossroads.

This article provides an overview of potential factors impacting retention and graduation of American Indian students. Recommendations for college retention practices are summarized.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (2011). Postsecondary success for Native American students: A brief summary of research, programs, and practices. Short Turnaround Report #0094-2011-2.  February 8, 2011.

This monograph provides a summary of data and research related to the success of American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian postsecondary students. The overview includes topics from preparation for postsecondary education to challenges faced by Native college students. Each section includes a summary of the relevant research.


Many doctoral dissertations have focused on issues related to retention of American Indian students. The following list is just a sample of the varied research topics.

Cross, K.P. (2002). When and why American Indian/Alaska Native students graduate: A longitudinal study of student persistence in a tribal college. Dissertation Abstracts International. (UMI Proquest Dissertation No. 3086986).

Fleming, S.D. (2010). American Indian college success at a mainstream university: Facilitators and barriers to academic attainment. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Dakota State University. (UMI Proquest Dissertation No. 2188880981)

Garland, J.L. (2010). Removing the college involvement “research asterisk”: Identifying and rethinking predictors of American Indian college student involvement. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Maryland, College Park.

Ness, J.K.E. (2001). American Indian completers and noncompleters in a tribal and community college in northern Minnesota. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Minnesota.

Sherwin, S.A. (2007). Holding the doors open: Faculty perspectives of their roles in the retention of American Indian students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Tato, Dawn. (2006). The effects of a mandatory retention program on American Indian college students. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Arizona State University. UMI Proquest Dissertation  3220780.

Articles and Books About Student Retention Issues In General

The following is a small sample of the body of literature addressing retention of racial/ethnic minority students or providing key reviews of the retention literature.

Braxton, J.M., & Mundy, M.E. (2001). Powerful institutional levers to reduce student departure. Journal of College Student Retention, 3(1): 91-118.
This article reviews papers by preeminent researchers in student retention, including Bean & Eaton, Berger, and Kuh. A set of 40 recommendations are gleaned from articles by these researchers. Many recommendations are categorized according to Tinto’s model of student departure. Overarching principles include an institutional commitment to students and the use of retention programs to forge personal bonds among and between students, faculty, and staff of the institution.  Braxton and Mundy emphasize the need for “holistic, multifaceted, and integrated approaches to retention.”

Hurtado, S., Clayton-Pedersen, A.R., Allen, W.R., Milem, J.F. (1998). Enhancing campus climates for racial/ethnic diversity: Educational policy and practice. The Review of Higher Education, 21(3): 279-302.
Hurtado and colleagues suggest that few comprehensive policy initiatives have been initiated at higher education institutions. The authors then propose a framework for understanding four dimensions of campus climate that impact racial/ethnic minority students. These include institutional context, including a historical legacy of inclusion or exclusion. Structural diversity, social interaction between and among individuals from different backgrounds, and perceptions of racial discrimination are among the additional components provided within the framework.  The authors provide recommendations for campus-level change to support success of minority students.

Kuh, G.D. (2001-2002). Organizational culture and student persistence: Prospects and puzzles. Journal of College Student Retention, 3(1), 23-39.
One of many articles by retention researcher George Kuh, this article provides recommendations for using peer groups and classrooms as key elements in cultivating an institutional culture that promotes student retention.

Swail, W.S., & Redd, K.E. (2003). Retaining minority student in higher education: A framework for success. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 30(2).
This monograph is “intended as a reference for key stakeholders regarding the realities and strategies of student retention” (p. v.). Changes in postsecondary opportunity for minority students are reviewed in Part I, with data concerning critical junctures for enrollment and persistence in higher education. Part II reviews factors related to student retention, including campus climate, academic preparation, social and academic integration, and financial support. Part III provides a model for retention. Part IV then reviews important organizational considerations for development of an institution-wide retention program.

Want, H., & Grimes, G.W. (2000). A systematic approach to assessing retention programs: Identifying critical points for meaningful interventions and validating outcomes assessment. Journal of College Student Retention, 2(1), 59-68.
This article provides a case study approach for a systematic assessment of student retention activities. The Levitz and Noel theoretical framework for retention is used to provide specific critical points of academic and non-academic performance. The use of quantitative and qualitative data is recommended to promote evidence-based decision making concerning retention efforts.

Dr. Stacey Sherwin is director of Institutional Effectiveness at Salish Kootenai College, where she directs campus efforts related to assessment, accreditation, strategic planning, and institutional research. She has a Ph.D. in Educational Studies/Higher Education Leadership from the University of Nebraska, Lincoln, where her doctoral work focused on retention of underrepresented minority students.