Attracting Native Americans to Academe: A 'Business' Model

By Clarkson, Gavin; Gladstone, Joseph Scoot | Diverse Issues in Higher Education, January 28, 2016 | Go to article overview

Attracting Native Americans to Academe: A 'Business' Model


Clarkson, Gavin, Gladstone, Joseph Scoot, Diverse Issues in Higher Education


With the Supreme Court re-examining affirmative action in higher education in its new term, the topic of race and access to a college education returns as a familiar visitor to the national agenda. But for the most part the national discussion--as well it should be--is about African-Americans and Hispanics. Almost completely absent from the dialogue is our country's third underrepresented minority group, and its first peoples: Native Americans.

Outside of tribal colleges, Native American student representation in four-year colleges is appallingly low--0.9 percent. It is even lower, 0.5 percent, at the graduate level.

Numerous experts and studies have identified the presence of role models--minority professors--as one factor in encouraging more minority high school graduates to enroll in, and complete, college. Research also indicates that students, especially non-White students in low-income communities, do better with teachers who came from similar circumstances.

For Native Americans, that's where hope really fades.

Unfortunately, Native Americans on college faculties, and among the postgraduate study ranks producing future professors, is practically nil. Less than 1 percent of doctoral degrees conferred in 2013 went to Native Americans, and according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), the number of Native American doctorate recipients is the lowest it has been in the past 20 years.

Awareness of this concern is strong among the Native American higher education community, but when it comes to solutions or fresh approaches, the tank seems to run dry.

In the business disciplines, our academic turf, the representation of Native Americans is also dismal. But we--our peers, colleagues and our supporters in the business community--have developed some promising fresh approaches. Perhaps the sciences and liberal arts can take note and consider how to emulate some of these approaches.

As business professors, who typically walk with one foot in the world of business, we often think of minority enrollment as business people might--as marketing and human resources challenges.

Twenty-one years ago, a group of businesses and higher education organizations formed The PhD Project to attract and encourage all underrepresented minorities to earn doctorates and become business professors, essentially marketing academia as a career path. Despite the enormous challenges in reaching the Native population, there has been some success: in 1996, there were only three Native American business professors in the entire country. Today, there are 45.

The PhD Project also recognized that the dropout rate among all doctoral students, much less the fragile population of economically disadvantaged minority students, is exceptionally high. …

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