A first-of-its-kind report just released by the California Indian Culture and Sovereignty Center (CICSC) at CSUSM reveals alarming data about the decline of educational attainment for Native American students in the state. The report found that the high school graduation rate is rising for all races and ethnic groups except for Native American students. Furthermore, high school graduation rates for this group are actually getting worse, having decreased almost five percent over a ten-year period starting in 2000.

Presenting the report at the 27th Annual California Indian Conference at CSUSM were Tom Torlakson, state superintendent of Public Instruction; James Ramos, State Board of Education member; and Joely Proudfit, CSUSM Native Studies professor and director of the CICSC. The report was made possible through a generous donation from the San Manuel Band of Mission Indians in the form of a three-year grant, which provides funding for a full-time research assistant.

“American Indian education is in crisis - we have the worst graduation rates compared to every other ethnic minority,” said Proudfit. “My hope is that this document will help inform educational leaders and legislators so that we can create better policies and programs to do something about this.”

The barriers to education for American Indian and Alaskan Native students are numerous, ranging from poor socio-economic conditions and a lack of adequate health care to a cultural bias in the education system due to few Native teachers in the classroom.

“Dropout prevention starts with caring teachers who give students every chance for success in the classroom through interactive and experiential teaching methodologies and relevant, culturally appropriate curriculum,” said Proudfit. “Dropout prevention also includes support services outside of the classroom from school administrators and counselors who work closely with parents.”

Proudfit noted that a lack of a critical mass frequently results in California Indian peoples being treated as the “invisible minority” even though the state is home to the largest number of federally recognized tribes, as well as the largest urban tribal communities in the nation.

“Native parents need access to resources to provide them with the skills to have the power to demand schools give their children an education that will strengthen Native families rather than separate Native children from their culture,” she said. “Parents and local school boards need on-going training about what works in Native education and what schools can accomplish when we work together.”

The report also found that even those schools that do successfully graduate American Indian students fall short when it comes to preparing them for higher education. Only 27 percent of Indian students who graduate from high school are qualified to enroll at Cal State or UC campuses, compared to 53 percent for all students statewide.

“The near absence of American Indian students on our college campuses deprives the higher education community of their perspectives and contributions to research and teaching,” said CSUSM President Karen Haynes. “At the same time, the Native communities are deprived of the contributions that a formally educated workforce can make to their community’s sovereignty, self-determination, health, education, and economic development.”

Although Indians make up 1.9 percent of California's population, they account for only 0.4 percent of CSU students, 0.6 percent of community college students and 0.7 percent of UC students.

Working diligently to improve these educational inequities, CSUSM has had a long, beneficial relationship with San Diego County’s tribal communities. Haynes appointed the CSU’s first tribal liaison in 2004 and formed the CSU’s first Native American Advisory Council in 2005 —both to better connect the campus to regional tribal communities. Today, close to one percent of CSUSM’s student population is American Indian – among the highest in the CSU.

The CICSC at CSUSM looks forward to producing this report on an annual basis.

“The report has always been something that I felt was needed in order to comprehensively begin to address American Indian and Alaskan Native education issues strategically,” said Proudfit. “Nothing like this has ever been done before in the state and we thought this would be an important undertaking of the CICSC. We are excited to reach this milestone goal—we know this report will serve as an important tool in productively addressing Native educational needs, developing policy, and making resources a priority to American Indian and Alaskan Native students in California.”

“American Indian education is in crisis - we have the worst graduation rates compared to every other ethnic minority,” said Proudfit. “My hope is that this document will help inform educational leaders and legislators so that we can create better policies and programs to do something about this.”