Published August 14, 2017
Presidents discuss importance of data to improve Native American education
PRINCETON, NEW JERSEY – Tribal college and university (TCU) presidents from across the country met last week to examine the critical role of data in addressing student enrollment, retention and success at their institutions serving American Indian students.
To meet their goal of continuing to improve Native students’ outcomes and better share the story of how American Indian Tribal higher education is transforming their students’ lives, the TCU presidents explored using data intelligence as a tool and their role as leaders and leadership within their institutions. Educational Testing Service (ETS) Center for Advocacy and Philanthropy and Strada Education Network hosted the two-day event in partnership with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) and the American Indian College Fund.
“One of our advocacy goals is to raise awareness of the challenges that our Native American communities face in higher education and to help mitigate those challenges,” said Lenora Green, executive director of the ETS Center for Advocacy and Philanthropy. “When we support our Tribal Colleges and Universities, we support the students they serve.”
The convening opened with a keynote speech by Timothy Renick, vice provost and vice president of enrollment management and student success at Georgia State University (GSU). During his session, Renick discussed how GSU raised graduations rates by 22 percent and closed all achievement gaps. He accentuated the importance of data and assessment and outlined several practical and low-cost steps that tribal colleges can take to improve outcomes for their students.
The presidents cited facing many of the same issues as GSU, and continued the dialogue with panel discussions and guided conversations led by Carrie Billy, President and CEO of AIHEC. During the sessions, the TCU presidents of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona; Salish Kootenai College in Pablo, Montana; and Oglala Lakota College in Kyle, South Dakota, discussed how to put GSU’s strategies into action and what steps their institutions are taking to improve American Indian higher education.
“We need to pool our resources and share and compare the outcomes,” said Billy. “With that information we can continuously move forward and create a better learning community.”
On the final day of the TCU Presidents convening, the sessions focused on student success. Throughout the day ETS researchers and higher education experts shared tools and strategies and answered questions to pave the way to tribal student success.
“TCUs are important contributors to the success of Native American students, and they are well-positioned to make an even greater impact in enhancing degree attainment and career outcomes by applying data-informed and innovative solutions,” said Dr. Lorenzo L. Esters, Strada Education Network vice president, philanthropy. Esters, who presented results from Strada Education’s Associate Degree Graduates Report with Gallup, urged TCUs to survey alumni to gain insights and help align graduates with the workforce. Through Strada Education’s partnership with Gallup, more than 2,500 U.S. adults whose highest degree earned was the associate degree were surveyed to assess their overall well-being after college based on five elements — purpose, social, community, physical and financial well-being.
Dhanfu Elston, vice president of strategy, guided pathways, and Purpose First at Complete College America, began the day by stressing the importance of guided pathways for students and more emphasis on career outcomes. Elston explained that TCUs must lead students on the correct path, including ensuring that students take at least 30 credit hours each year and advising students on selecting majors to avoid poor choices.
Academic advisors also play a definitive role in student success. The student-to-faculty ratio can make it difficult for academic advisors to make a difference, but Elston stressed that TCUs can elevate that position to a more important role of career advisor.
ETS Senior Assessment Strategist Dr. Ross Markle explained the importance of understanding the strengths and challenges that students bring to college. Noncognitive skills such as study skills, motivation, self-management and social connections can provide a stepping stone to addressing the strategies tribal students need to succeed.
Markle explained that TCUs must be able to identify risks for tribal students and change their support programs accordingly so their students can finish their degrees. ETS’ SuccessNavigator® assessment — designed to help colleges reach at-risk incoming students and improve retention and completion rates — can help to identify and measure these factors. The assessment is currently being tested at Fond du Lac Tribal Community College in Cloquet, Minnesota; Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque, New Mexico; and Nebraska Indian Community College in Macy, Nebraska.
“Let’s not just look at the data we have based on retention rates and graduation rates,” said Charles M. Roessell, President of Diné College. “Let’s look at the data of these students before they come to us and find a way to align ourselves with that.”
The convening concluded with a final keynote speech from Richard Lui, journalist and anchor for MSNBC and NBC News. Lui stressed the importance of telling stories and encouraged the TCUs to do whatever it takes to get their stories to the public.
Despite declining TCU enrollments and negativity surrounding reservations, the tribal presidents continuously strive to improve Native students’ education and share their stories.
“We are beacons of hope for our people on our reservations,” said Thomas Shortbull, president of Oglala Lakota College. “It makes all the trials and tribulations we go through as presidents worthwhile.”
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