Native American enrollment shows sudden decline since last decade

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Native American enrollment shows sudden decline since last decade

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Lucy Marx

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Lucy Marx

Lucy Marx

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Lucy Marx, News Editor

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The amount of Native American students enrolled in California Community Colleges has dropped nearly 60% in the last ten years, and experts have been unable to provide a clear reason. 

The Native American population at California community colleges has always been low, hovering around 1% statewide, but it’s now at less than half a percent.  

While a number of factors may have influenced the trend, there is currently no stand-out reason for this issue. 

“By asking the question it really demonstrates how much we don’t know,” said Dr. Niki Sandoval, Education Director at the Santa Ynez Band of Chumash Indians Education Department. 

City College has experienced a gradual drop in enrollment over the past 10 years that has affected all ethnic groups, but Native American enrollment had one of the most severe declines at 77%. City College offers no support services for native students, and only occasional student-led or faculty-wide native organizations.

After an incident in 2015 when art students installed a teepee on West Campus, many Native American students felt their culture had been appropriated, and tension was sparked between the school and the Native American community. 

Of course, this lone issue does not account for the 10-year drop in enrollment. Some experts believe a large factor in the decrease was a change to the way students are counted. 

Starting in 2008, the Department of Education introduced the “two or more races” category to student ethnicity reports, allowing students to self-identify with multiple races. Some speculate that many Native American students began reporting within this category rather than exclusively Native American. 

The past 10 years also saw an increase in Native American enrollment at UC schools but a decrease at CSUs, once again leaving the issue without a clear cause. 

Ethnic Studies Professor Thomas Carrasco believes the issue stems from socioeconomic disadvantages, and that Native American students are already at a disadvantage in the K-12 system. 

“It’s economic and structural,” he said. 

In the Santa Barbara Unified School District, less than half of Native American graduates in the 2014-15 school year met the UC and CSU course requirements, while nearly 75% of white students did. This comes down to a difference in economic opportunity and resources, said Carrasco, and numbers like this can help explain why there are fewer Native American students in the community college system. 

City College has begun to recognize Native American culture more in the past few years, said Arturo Rodriguez, Dean of Student Support Services. 

“We want to make sure we are able to respond to the community needs,” said Rodriguez. “For the last two commencements, we started the ceremony with a Chumash blessing.”

The school has also started opening meetings with land acknowledgments, which are brief recognitions that the school sits on Chumash land. 

Carrasco believes that City College also needs to reach out more to the Native community and “recruit specifically Native Americans.” 

The school currently does general outreach to local high schools but targeted outreach may help raise Native American enrollment, said Carrasco. 

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