Strengthening the Academic Success of American Indian and Alaska Native Students

  • Year Published : 2021
  • Month Published : June

BOULDER, Colo. – The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education has released two reports examining efforts to improve the college experience and increase graduation rates of American Indian and Alaska Native students.

These works are both part of WICHE’s multiyear project, Reducing Postsecondary Attainment Gaps for American Indians and Alaska Natives: Linking Policy and Practice. Through the Native Serving Institutions Initiative funded by Lumina Foundation, WICHE has partnered with two- and four-year Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions to support campus efforts, create a network of peer institutions, as well as drive supportive policy at the state and federal levels.

Native American-Serving Nontribal Institutions, or NASNTIs — which are a U.S. Department of Education designation — are currently located in 11 states: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The institutions have at least 10 percent Native students in their student populations.

“Education of American Indian people has emerged out of a complex and painful history,” said Suzanne Benally, director of the Native Serving Institutions Initiative at WICHE. “To address the inequity in American Indian and Alaska Native student attainment today, it requires higher education institutions to examine their structures, policies, and campus environments and develop systematic practices of equity, social justice, inclusivity, and belonging. In these reports, we wanted to examine the factors and funding necessary for successful American Indian and Alaska Native student outcomes.”

Using evidence-based research, the following papers serve as a resource of promising practices such as mentoring, faculty support, early alert data systems, and stronger relationships with Tribal Nations, in postsecondary education, especially for American Indian and Alaska Native students and the institutions that serve them:

“One of the biggest postsecondary attainment gaps, historically, has existed between Native and non-Native students,” said Jere Mock, WICHE’s vice president of programs and services. “As our reports show, several NASNTIs are having success in increasing Native student enrollments, retention, and graduation rates. WICHE has provided opportunities for cross-institutional collaborations and information sharing to maximize outcomes across the campuses. Eleven of the Native-serving institutions received small planning grants to help them achieve quantifiable goals to narrow attainment gaps, implement high-impact practices, and other efforts leading to students’ academic success.”

Both reports are available online at


Since 1953, the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education has been strengthening higher education, workforce development, and behavioral health throughout the region. As an interstate compact, WICHE partners with states, territories, and postsecondary institutions to share knowledge, create resources, and develop innovative solutions that address some of our society’s most pressing needs. From promoting high-quality, affordable postsecondary education to helping states get the most from their technology investments and addressing behavioral health challenges, WICHE improves lives across the West through innovation, cooperation, resource sharing, and sound public policy. WICHE members include Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawai’i, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oregon, South Dakota, Utah, Washington, Wyoming, and the U.S. Pacific Territories and Freely Associated States (specifically the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam).

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