‘We ask our Indigenous allies to help us change the structural and systemic issues facing our Native students and our people’
Viewpoints: The higher education system in the United States fails to serve Native students equitably, and we call on our allies to help bring awareness to these issues, writes Angelique Albert, CEO of the American Indian Graduate Center.
Editor’s note: Our monthly Viewpoints series invites guest authors from outside of Wells Fargo to share an important perspective related to their work. Today, we welcome Angelique Albert, CEO of American Indian Graduate Center.
As we commemorate Native American Heritage Month, it is important to celebrate the many Native individuals who have made extensive contributions to society and to celebrate the cultural heritage of the many tribal nations in this country. At American Indian Graduate Center, we are also celebrating more than 50 years of empowering Native students through scholarships and support services. We are proud to have invested more than $350 million in direct scholarship dollars to students from more than 500 tribes in all 50 states. While we celebrate, it is essential that we also stay steadfast to address the inequities still facing our scholars today.
The higher education system in the United States fails to serve Native students equitably. Native adults are half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree compared to the overall U.S. population. Only 14% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, compared to 30% of the overall U.S. population. Unfortunately, this inequity seems very likely to continue given that only 19% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives between 18 and 24 are enrolled in college, compared to 41% of the overall U.S. population of this same age group. These numbers are discouraging at best.
Of the many factors contributing to these inequities, lack of financial resources remains at the top of the list. The wealth gap facing Native families in this country continues to be enormous and unacceptable. The median Native American household income is 53% of white household income, and Native American household wealth is estimated at less than 5% of white household wealth, making it difficult for Native families to pay for college. Recognizing that education is the key element to address these disparities, American Indian Graduate Center makes access to higher education our top priority. Direct scholarship dollars to students are essential. Although we award between $11 million and $15 million in direct scholarship dollars annually, we are only able to fund 18% of the students who apply.
Visibility and erasure continue to be barriers impacting Native students. False mainstream narratives regarding Native people, history, and culture lead to systems and structures that overlook Natives, both in their needs and their assets. The high school and college curriculum at Predominantly White Institutions, or PWIs, do not accurately reflect Indigenous history and culture. The lack of Native professors, Native curriculum, and underrepresentation can render native students invisible in today’s higher education system. With the racial awakening in this county today, it is essential we call on our allies to help bring awareness to these issues.
As we move forward, we will continue to fund students pursuing their undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. — Angelique Albert, CEO of American Indian Graduate Center
We ask our Indigenous allies to help us change the structural and systemic issues facing our Native students and our people. You may ask, ‘What can one person or one firm do?’ It starts with educating yourself on accurate Native American history, creating space for Native people and voices, and simply supporting Native organizations and causes. Partners who take the time to educate themselves on Native history serve as great allies. Something as simple as educating yourself on the residential school era, termination era, or self-determination era in this county will lead to cultural and historical understanding. Creating space for Native voices to be heard in meaningful and authentic ways will break down barriers, allowing for true representation. It will also lead to stronger relationships and more robust contributions to your company and society.
Finally, supporting and partnering with credible Native causes and organizations like American Indian Graduate Center, Illuminative, and AISES will allow for true equity. Whether you are giving support financially or through a partnership with these firms, you empower organizations that have the expertise to create true change in their own communities. Great partnerships, like the one we have with Wells Fargo, have allowed us to support thousands of students through scholarships, college prep, and mentoring opportunities. Their investment of nearly $8 million has been critical in us helping more than 20,000 students attain higher education. These partnerships have allowed us to increase graduation rates, retention rates, and empower the Native leaders of today.
Through true allyship, we are beginning to break down some of these barriers and create a more equitable world for our Native students. Each year, American Indian Graduate Center invests 50 – 60% of our scholarship dollars to fund students in their graduate and professional degrees. We have funded more than 1,300 law degrees and more than 1,700 doctorate degrees, impacting the income and wealth gap for Native people in this county. As we move forward, we will continue to fund students pursuing their undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. We will fund students in many critically needed fields like finance, STEM, and business. We will continue to advocate for systematic change in our institutions of higher education. As 2022 quickly approaches, we will launch a proud rebranding, so please watch for, and help celebrate, our new name and look.
Most importantly, as we move forward for our Native scholars, we request your allyship. Lemlmts (Thank you).