A wide range of scholarships exists for Native American students. Some are general scholarships, while others target specific areas of study. Such scholarships are designed to address disparities in higher education enrollment among Native American students
Native American Higher Education Statistics
Native Americans enroll in college at a much lower rate than the U.S. population as a whole. According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute:
- Twenty-four percent of all Native Americans (ages 18–24) are enrolled in higher education versus 41% of the entire United States population.
- Enrollment of Native Americans in higher education schools decreased from 2016–2017 and 2019–2020. The numbers went from 128,600 to 116,400.
- Native Americans are less likely to complete college than the general population. Forty-one percent of all Native Americans actually get their four-year degree after enrolling, compared to 63% of the general population.
- As of 2019, 25% of all Native Americans who were older than 25 had at least an associate’s degree. The general population was at 42%.
Tips for Schools and Universities To Improve Native American Education Experience
Schools must do a better job of reaching out and connecting to Native Americans in order to increase their enrollment numbers and improve the overall educational experience. There are many ways that they can make it easier for Native American students to attend college:
- Many schools have formed partnerships with Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) across the country. They may even have dual enrollment programs that allow a student to enroll in a TCU and then transfer to another school.
- State legislatures must perform appropriate oversight of public and private schools in order to ensure that they are committed to adequate outreach to Native American communities. In many cases, they may need to appropriate funds specifically for these purposes.
- In many cases, Native American students are already working and unable to commit to a full-time educational experience. In these instances, schools must invest in part-time, flexible, or online offerings that give these students the opportunity to fully engage in their educational experience.
General Scholarships for Native American Students
There are many resources for finding scholarship opportunities for Native Americans. For example, Scholarships360 and Scholarships.com list scholarships for Native American students. Both websites have dozens of specific scholarships that have been set up for the explicit purpose of encouraging Native American students to attend college. Furthermore, many schools have endowed scholarships designed to assist the Native American population.
As a racial minority within the United States, Native Americans are eligible for many scholarships that non-minority students are not. However, Native American students who are seeking financial aid for higher education should explore their options for scholarships of all types.
STEM Scholarships for Native American Students
There is a real need for more STEM students in the United States and a massive shortage of workers in this area. Native Americans are also historically underrepresented in this field: According to the latest statistics, only .3% of all STEM workers are Native American. Fortunately, numerous scholarships are available to increase Native American participation in these fields. These include a variety of scholarships that can be found in different databases, such as AISES and Scholarships.com. The National Conference of State Legislatures also has an extensive list of scholarship opportunities for Native Americans interested in this field.
These scholarships are typically smaller, with average grants usually in the area of $1,500. They also generally require that students have a relatively high GPA of at least 3.0 and be juniors or seniors with an interest in the STEM field.
Healthcare/Medical Scholarships for Native American Students
A variety of scholarship programs also exist geared toward increasing the enrollment of Native American students in the healthcare industry. These include:
- Indian Health Service Scholarship Program
- Association of American Indian Physicians – list of 20 different scholarship programs
- EDUMED – Lists dozens of different programs for Native Americans who want to pursue a career in medicine
- The Association of American Medical Colleges has additional information on loan repayment and scholarship programs for American Indians.
Some colleges actually have specific programs and scholarships in this area. For example, Northeastern State University has an entire webpage dedicated to scholarships for Native American students who want to pursue a career in healthcare.
Business/Accounting/Finance Scholarships for Native American Students
Many organizations have set up scholarships for Native American students who are interested in pursuing a career in business, accounting, or finance. These scholarships are often established by the combined involvement of colleges and financial groups. Examples include:
- Scholarships set up by the American Indian Graduation Center.
- Finance-specific scholarships available on Scholarships.com.
- Scholarships that have been created by businesses in the Accounting and Finance industry. These scholarships are typically located in areas with high Native American populations, like the Southwestern United States. For example, REDW, a CPA firm, donated to the American Indian Graduation Center for the purpose of creating a scholarship.
- The National Indian Education Association has a database of scholarships that lists a variety of scholarship opportunities for Native Americans interested in business.
Tribal Colleges and Universities are colleges that are designed to serve the Native American population. They are typically located in areas where there is a very high percentage of Native American students. At the moment, there are 32 fully accredited Tribal Colleges and Universities, while three colleges have associate status. These schools offer 358 different programs.
These schools are meant to service the Native American population. As you can imagine, the vast majority of the students who attend them — 78% — are Native American. These schools provide significant aid to Native American students and have a slew of outreach programs designed to ensure that these students can get a full college experience. Many TCUs also partner with other schools in the area, ensuring that students who attend a TCU can also have access to the educational offerings of other local schools.
Tips for Applying for Scholarships
There are a few things that Native American students should keep in mind when applying for scholarships:
- You will very likely have to prove your Native American ancestry. This means that you may have to obtain appropriate tribal documents. Depending on your circumstances, this may take time. As such, start getting this paperwork as soon as possible!
- Make sure to search a variety of scholarship databases. While much of the information on these databases may overlap, there will still likely be different information on different databases. As such, it is worth spending the time to research different opportunities. Sample websites include Scholarships.com, Fastweb, and Cappex.
- Different states — particularly those with high percentages of Native American populations — may have state resources or databases available.
- Finally, specific schools often have scholarships geared toward the Native American population. It is worth examining if this is the case for your school. You should also inquire if this is the case before submitting a formal application to a school.
Improving Access to Higher Education
The long history of discrimination against American Indians and Native Alaskans has created disparities in educational access and outcomes. These groups continue to face significant barriers to higher education, but many groups, including some colleges and universities, are trying to improve outreach and support for Native American groups. Explore the resources provided here to learn more about scholarships that can help Native American students reach their educational goals.