Retention among FLC's Native American students was the second biggest mover next to Hispanic student retention.
DURANGO (19 October 2011) - Increased admission standards, along with efforts to secure funding and increase investment in academic programs, seem to be making a difference in helping Fort Lewis College’s students succeed in school. The retention rate among every ethnic group represented on campus either increased or remained steady from 2006 (beginning of tougher admission standards) to 2009 (latest published data).
The largest jump in retention belongs to FLC’s Hispanic student population, which increased 21 percent between 2006 and 2009, from 39 percent to 60 percent. Next was the 11 percent increase among the College’s Native American students (41 percent to 52 percent). Retention among African American and White students also increased. Asian student retention remained steady.
Fort Lewis College is a leader in the education of the country’s Native American tribes. FLC awards more bachelor’s degrees to Native American students than any other four-year school in the nation. Fort Lewis is also in the top 50 of all public colleges and universities in the country in terms of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) degrees awarded to Native Americans.
Much of the investment in FLC’s academic programs has come from outside funding sources. For example, in September 2011, Fort Lewis College received the news that it had won a Department of Education Title III grant. Title III grants are available to institutions that have a high number of students receiving need-based financial aid. This particular grant is administered under the Native American-Serving, Non-Tribal Institution Program.
With FLC Biology Professor Dr. Shere Byrd as the driving force, the grant will bring in $2 million over the next five years. The funding will go to purchase the latest equipment for the FLC Engineering/Physics, Anthropology, Archaeology, Native American & Indigenous Studies, and Geosciences programs, as well as the Delaney Library, and the Intertribal News, the College’s tribal newsletter.
“These Title III grants are called ‘capacity building’ grants,” explains Dr. Byrd. “That is, they are intended to help Fort Lewis as an institution, to build its capacity for attracting, mentoring, supporting, retaining, and graduating students from underserved populations (particularly Native Americans in our case).”
According to Dr. Byrd, the programs selected to benefit from the grant were chosen because of their popularity among FLC’s Native American population, as well as their potential positive impact to the reservations as Native American alumni return home to begin their careers after graduation.
One example is the Geosciences program. With growing interest in coal, natural gas and other energy resources located on tribal land, it is important to have Native American experts in these issues who can advise their tribes.
Fort Lewis College’s success in winning Title III grants is nothing new. In 2008, FLC was awarded two Title III grants to help, not only Native American students, but all FLC students in the STEM fields. These first two grants went toward initiatives like strengthening the College’s math programs, equipping the recently completed Biology wing of Berndt Hall, and creating the Public Health degree program.
Aside from the Title III grants, the Program for Academic Advancement (PAA) also helps those students who are potentially at risk of academic struggles. PAA is a federally-funded TRIO program that the College houses on campus. The goal of PAA is to help low-income and/or first-generation students succeed in school through offerings such as tutoring, academic and financial aid advising, life-skills workshops, and connections with programs like child care, food banks, and affordable housing.
Though PAA doesn’t make distinctions according to race, the socio-economic reality is that many minority groups fall into the low-income, first generation categories.
According to the 2009-10 numbers, 202 FLC students were enrolled in PAA (131 female and 71 male) and 148 qualified as both low-income and first generation. PAA held an 82% retention rate in 2009-10 and 95% of PAA students earned a GPA of 2.0 or higher.
Finally, in 2006 Fort Lewis College began to phase in higher admission standards for its students. As a result, FLC went from a “moderately selective” classification to a “selective” institution. Since 2006, the entering freshman classes have been increasingly more academically-prepared to hit the ground running upon walking into that first classroom.