Alaska Native students are dropping out at high rates

Vincent Gregory, hoping to graduate this semester, stands in front of Native Student Services which he attributes a large part of college career success to. Native Student Services can be found in the Rasmuson Hall. Photo credit: Young Kim

Moving into a different environment can really change a student’s mentality, and for many Alaska Native students, this appears to be the case. The drop-out rate for Alaska Native students in UAA is an average of about 50 percent and has been so for the past six years.

Maria Williams, director of Alaska Native Studies, believes the main challenge is an issue of resources.

“Typical of most UAA students, the adjustment to college is challenging. How to use UA Online, Blackboard, how to register for classes, how to work with an advisor, how to take the ACCUPLACER, etc. These are often barriers,” Williams said. “Students often are not aware of Veteran Support Services or Native Student Services. The UAA Student Club is the Native Student Council — which is very active — but often, new incoming Alaska Native students are not aware of this club as well.”

Vincent Gregory, English major, agreed.

“The place that I would have to go to acquire the resources to get collegiate preparation would be… Anayak, 50 miles away from my village,” Gregory said.

Gregory grew up in Kalskag and started college at UAA in the spring semester of 2009. Though he agrees that there definitely isn’t enough outreach to the small villages, Gregory developed an additional theory of why the drop-out rate is so high.

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“Culture shock is what I associate it with,” Gregory said. “It’s a jungle of concrete and steel versus a village that’s serene…”

He believes that in addition to a lack of outreach, Alaska Native students from villages go through too much of a change of environment in order for them to focus on school. Additionally, when asking for help, many aren’t given the help they need.

“In my example, when I was talking to my teacher, because I would ask them to be clear. They’d say ‘I’m not going to give you the answer.’ I’m not asking for the answer! I’m asking you to guide me so I can get it on my own,” Gregory said. “If you don’t show me the path, how do you expect me to walk it, you know?”

Though there definitely isn’t enough outreach available for many students, there are programs like the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program that gives students plenty of collegiate preparation. When told about the drop-out rate in Alaska Native students, Herb Schroeder from ANSEP replied that the drop-out rate does not exist in Alaska Native ANSEP students.

“ANSEP students, when they arrive at the university, are academically and socially prepared to be college students,” Schroeder said.

He believes that basing grades off learned skills and knowledge would greatly improve the drop-out rate and that education before college is as vital as a college education. College preparation is mandatory.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with many Alaska Native students. Though there are certainly programs and resources, the main disconnect appears to exist between either recruiting students or showing them what to do in order to know what to do in college. As soon as that disconnect is bridged, the drop-out rate is sure to decrease.