In the heart of Indian Country, Oklahoma universities lead the nation in the number of American Indian students obtaining undergraduate degrees, according to a recent report published by Diverse Issues in Higher Education.
The state has seen successes in terms of indigenous education, including some of the highest test scores among American Indians, but the new report shows indications of high academic performance at the college level as well.
Oklahoma Baptist University, Southern Nazarene University, the University of Central Oklahoma and the University of Oklahoma placed in the top 10 nationally in terms of number of American Indian graduates. OBU ranked first in mathematics and statistics and OU took first place for social sciences and history graduates. OU’s Health Sciences Center leads the way in the number of graduates going into health professions and clinical sciences. Northeastern State University and Oklahoma State University ranked the highest in the state and nation overall.
The report does not provide data on tribal affiliation, or if the data reflect only students from Oklahoma.
Some of the factors leading to OU’s success are not only its size and recruitment efforts, but also its resources for students. The university’s American Indian Student Life service oversees programs such as American Indian new student orientation, scholarship opportunities and financial aid, mentoring and advising. The school also has a variety of organizations that nurture the campus’ American Indian community, such as the American Indian Student Association, Retaining American Indians Now, and discipline-specific groups, such as the Native American Journalists Association and American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
Toni Tsatoke, assistant director of OU’s McNair Scholars program and an American Indian graduate of the university, said OU’s “strong visibility” among American Indian students is a testament to the school’s commitment to its history with Indian peoples. The student-run Indian fraternity and sorority, the annual spring contest powwow, which is one of the oldest in the nation, as well as the extremely active American Indian Alumni Society, all contribute to the school’s American Indian culture.
Martin O’Gwynn, associate vice president of university communications at Oklahoma Baptist in Shawnee, said OBU coordinates an annual workshop designed to help minority students wanting to go to college.
Even with OBU’s top ranking in math and statistics, O’Gwynn said the overall low number of graduates in that field across the nation “demonstrates that more work is needed in encouraging Native Americans to pursue college degrees in these areas.”
The University of Tulsa failed to place in the bachelor’s degree rankings — despite its proximity to OSU, NSU and the surrounding Indian nations. The traditional jurisdictional boundaries of three tribes — the Cherokee Nation, the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and the Osage Nation — all intersect in Tulsa.
However, TU did rank 38th for students obtaining master’s degrees in business management and marketing, and sixth for those obtaining law degrees.
The University of Phoenix-Tulsa campus actually scored in the top 50 schools for awarding bachelor’s degrees to Native Americans in three programs: business management and marketing; health professions; and computer and information science.
TOP 5 BACHELOR’S DEGREES FOR AMERICAN INDIANS
SCHOOL ’08-’09 TOTAL
1. Northeastern State University (tie)..........................370
1. Oklahoma State University (tie) ..............................370
3. University of Oklahoma ............................................258
4. Arizona State University ............................................187
4. California State University-Long Beach ................181
SOURCE: Diverse Issues In Higher Education