Partnership hopes to boost American Indian enrollment

Seth Woerhle

Buffalo meat, fry bread and wild rice added some flavor to an American Indian feast and college informational session Wednesday night that is hoped to be the first step in increasing American Indian college enrollment.

The event – held at Roosevelt High School – was the result of a partnership between the University’s Office of Admissions and the Minneapolis Public Schools Indian Education Programs. It drew about 50 students and their families.

The event was the first of its kind by the admissions office, according to Jillian Berkland, American Indian student outreach and recruitment coordinator at the University. She said it was also the first time the office had partnered with a student group, in this case, the American Indian Student Cultural Center.

“A connection like this is really important,” Berkland said. “We should be reaching out to especially needy people. We’ve got a lot of student support services on campus that they might not be aware of.”

Berkland said Roosevelt High School was chosen because it, along with South Minneapolis High School, has one of the largest American Indian student populations in the city.

About 200 undergraduates and 100 graduate American Indian students are enrolled at the University, Berkland said.

Tim Brown, of the Minneapolis Public Schools’ department of Indian Education Programs, said only 15 percent of American Indian ninth graders graduate high school in four years.

Some, he said, take an extra year or enroll in special instruction, but others end up dropping out all together.

Brown has a special insight into the plight of American Indian students. He dropped out of high school and college before going on to get his master’s degree, and is now working on his doctorate in educational leadership.

“It takes a little more early intervention (for American Indian students),” Brown said. “We need to plant the seeds right here in the school to get them thinking that going to college isn’t such a drastic step and get them to meet and make connections with people at the University so it’s not such a scary place.”

These and other efforts might be working. Ira Jourdain, who is taking political science and American Indian studies courses at the University, sat at a table near Brown. His two stepdaughters plan on enrolling here as well after high school.

“I think it’s pretty cool to have this,” Jourdain said. “I didn’t have this when I went to school.”

Sallye McKee, associate vice provost for multicultural affairs, said this event will serve a pilot for future University outreach efforts toward American Indian and other underrepresented minorities.

Seth Woehrle welcomes comments at [email protected]