With the current economy, students across Indian Country are stressing over how they're going to pay for their college tuition. In some cases, students are taking out thousands of dollars in loans. On Friday, April 18, Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow delivered a speech at the American Indian Chamber of Commerce of Arizona (AICCAz) luncheon at the Heard Museum in Phoenix. This luncheon was an opportunity for attendees to network and learn about Arizona's economic development and the state of education in Indian Country.
One of the top 100 universities in the world, ASU is also one of the leading universities in the U.S. for helping the American Indian population earn undergraduate and graduate degrees (see graph).
"The intersection of advancing Indigenous peoples and their rights and opportunities, along with education, technology and everything else, is enabling and empowering. The one thing that I wanted to make sure all of you leave this discussion with is that we share these opportunities here in Arizona. To me, it is, in fact, only about opportunity," said Crow. "I want everyone to understand that ASU is committed to the positive future of Arizona, the positive future for all communities in the state of Arizona and all families, regardless of circumstances, regardless of background, regardless of anything that has happened along the way."
Crow mentioned how, for most of its history, ASU has been a largely middle-class, largely white university. Arizona is an increasingly diverse state that is home to 21 federally recognized Indian tribes. In 1996, 902 American Indian students were enrolled at ASU. In 2011, that number had increased to 1,998. The American Indian student population is rising not only at ASU, but also across the nation.
"A university should be reflective of talents from all families and all backgrounds from the entire state. Students should be able to take full advantage of what universities have to offer. Every school within ASU is in the ninetieth percentile or higher in academic rankings, every single school at the University," said Crow.
Crow mentioned that creating a lasting relationship between the university and tribal communities would benefit Indian Country in the long run by helping to build economic development and increasing the number of Indian and non-Indian graduates working together to empower opportunity in Indian Country.
During the question-and-answer session, an attendee made a comment about coming from an American Indian family as she asked Crow a question.
"[When I was] growing up, my parents didn't understand what my older sister needed to get to college; she didn't understand the barriers. However, with [Native American families] it starts with the parents, grandparents and the rest of the family. It's not just one person, it's a large group that helps to support [the student in the family]. What does ASU do to help the parents and their children through high school and forward to college?"
Crow responded, "We have hundreds of programs working with parents, the schools, [and] the [tribal] communities to help these families. We have plenty of opportunities for parents and communities as well. They have to be open to these opportunities; we can't make them do anything. If we work on this parent issue, we're able to raise the student retention rates.
"I come from a family where nobody graduated from high school, and this literally was a family issue," Crow continued. "[M]y brother and I slept in the same room on bunk beds, or in the hallway of a trailer, for several years at a time. Every situation is different; we even have students who were homeless or came from similar situations. It's about finding that dream and working against individuals who are against education. In some cases parents are against education, but you need to find that dream."
After hearing about Crows personal experiences attendee Patty Talahongva asked Crow to share this story with potential and current American Indian students so that they would be able to connect with Crow on the same level, since many American Indian families face these same troubles on a daily basis. Crow agreed to share his personal story in the future.
Crow stated that one of the major problems ASU runs into is students who graduate, go on to get jobs, and yet they work to support their parents and other family members who are in distressed economic circumstances. Students are sending their hard-earned money back home to help their families. Crow said that this should not be the case; students should be working for themselves and their own advancement and success.
The staff in the ASU American Indian Student Support Services office works as a team to help American Indian students succeed—not only at ASU, but for the betterment of Indian Country. For ASU Crow has adopted the "New American University," a model that "combines the highest levels of academic excellence, inclusiveness to a broad demographic, and maximum societal impact."
"Talent is not determined by zip code; talent is determined by innate ability," Crow said. "Public universities have largely forgotten this, as they [are admitting] fewer and fewer students. They proudly say that they only admit 10 percent of those who apply—what about the other 90 percent? Every college will not succeed if they admit only [5 to 10] percent of the students who apply. America will not succeed."
Crow went on to say that he can tell which students will succeed by looking at the following facts: high school GPA, class rank, high school grades and household income. "This is not how it should be," said Crow. "None of this information should determine whether you're going to succeed in life or not. This needs to change." Crow encouraged his audience to change what universities think they know about American Indian students and to find the innate ability and heart inside themselves to succeed in life.
Today's current economic situation causes stress for many families and students who are worrying about how to cover tuition, books, and room and board. As more American Indian students enroll at and graduate from ASU, the statistics for this group are more likely to change for the better. Many colleges and universities have programs geared toward helping American Indian students succeed, regardless of economic situation. Work with these programs to find out what type of individual assistance you can get.
For more information about ASU's American Indian Student Support Services or the mentoring program with AICCAz, call (480) 965-8044. To reach the ASU Office of the Special Advisor to the President on American Indian Initiatives, call (480) 727-8325.