Half of NKU Native American students leave

It’s a new year. The holidays are over, the celebrations have ended and for many Northern Kentucky University students, their usual daily grind has resumed. Days full of attending classes, studying, working and trying to balance everything out have once again become the status quo — but not for everyone.

Among the student population of NKU, the school has only a 50 percent retention rate of its enrolled Native Americans. This means that, after their first year, only half of the total number of enrolled students are returning for the following academic year. The fall 2009 to fall 2010 year had the highest percentage, with 50 percent returning, all of those being male students. To give a better idea of how that compares with other years:

-The fall 2008 to fall 2009 school year had only 25 percent of the total enrolled students return. No male students returned, and only 33 percent of the total enrolled female students returned.
-The fall 2007 to fall 2008 school year saw 33 percent of the total number of students return, with 50 percent of enrolled women returning, but no men.

Essentially, even though the number has been going up each year, there are still less than half of all enrolled Native American students returning each new year.

On campus, the university has two student groups sponsored by Nichole Grant, Ph.D., that revolve around Native American culture. One is called the First Nation Student Organization; the other is known as Kiksuya, translated to “remember” in the Lakota language. First Nation, according to its website, was founded in 2006 and its mission is to raise awareness, challenge stereotypes and misconceptions and work towards understanding of circumstances Native Americans have faced throughout history. Kiksuya raises funds for and serves the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Several members of the group journey there every year to help out, and they raise money through fundraisers on campus and the community.

With such return rates, it begs the question of why? Why are so few students returning each new school year, and what could NKU do, if anything, to raise their retention rates?

Provost Gail Wells said, “It is disappointing that NKU has not been successful recruiting and retaining more Native American students.” She said that even though the enrollment for Native American students rose approximately 10 percent in fall 2010, there were still only 39 Native American students enrolled.

“NKU draws the majority of its enrollment from our surrounding counties of Northern Kentucky and Greater Cincinnati,” she said. “Unfortunately, there is not a large population of Native Americans in our region.”

When asked about what the college is doing to raise the diversity and recruitment of students to the school, Wells said that NKU is actively engaged in developing a diversity plan. “This process and the resulting plan should result in strategic initiatives to recruit and retain a diverse student body,” she said. She also noted that Vice President for Student Affairs Zeb Davenport, Ph.D. and Miriam Kannan, Ph.D., a professor of biology, are chairing the effort.

Story by Sean Dressman