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Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund, 303-426-8900,

Colleen R. Billiot, Public Education Coordinator, American Indian College Fund, 720-214-2569,

Nov 9, 2020 | Press Releases, Research

American Indian College Fund and Three National Native Scholarship Providers to Build Collaborative Data and Research Capacity

American Indian and Alaska Native College Students: Building Collaborative Data Capacity for Assessing College Access, Persistence, and Graduation Success Project Funded by $1 Million Spencer Foundation Grant

Denver, Colo.—November 10, 2020— Only 14.5% of American Indian and Alaska Natives (AIAN) age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher—less than half of the rate of the overall population, at 31.5%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The American Indian College Fund is embarking upon a $1 million, five-year research project, American Indian and Alaska Native College Students: Building Collaborative Data Capacity for Assessing College Access, Persistence, and Graduation Success, funded by The Spencer Foundation. The project, in collaboration with three other national Native American scholarship-providing organizations (NNSPs), will create data capacity across organizations. Partner organizations include the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC), the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), and Indigenous Education, Inc. (IEI), which administers The Cobell Scholarship.

The research project will explore ways to increase AIAN students’ access to and graduation from college as well as ways students interact with institutions once they are in college.

The four NNSPs will build a shared database, which will combine the number of students served across organizations to provide a larger, more robust sample when conducting qualitative and quantitative research. The database will also enable comparisons across the group of students served collectively, according to Dr. David Sanders, Vice President of Research at the American Indian College Fund (the College Fund), which will direct the program. The project provides the opportunity to work with consultants to develop an institutional assessment, allowing post-secondary institutions to measure the success of their efforts to serve AIAN students.

The College Fund started college affordability research one year ago with a grant from the Lumina Foundation. That work established research norms with other NNSP member organizations, creating the opportunity to extend the work.

The result will be a larger AIAN student research agenda while meeting research needs for AIAN post-secondary students. The project will also use research results to ensure that non-tribal colleges and universities are held accountable for how they serve their communities.

Native students are a significant and unique population underserved by higher education, distinguished from other racial/ethnic student populations by their tribal nation citizenship within the United States. The combination of both racial identity and tribal citizenship status complicates the relationships and experiences AIAN students have with higher education.

“The real power of this project is that by working across organizations, we will gather data that will allow us to establish a broad Native American research agenda. We are looking forward to how we grow this initiative to do research with AIAN communities in the future, and to partner with other organizations while allowing them to ask the kinds of questions they want to ask (and answer) for the benefit of their organizations and Indian Education in general,” Dr. Sanders said.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “The College Fund is excited to work with our colleagues in the Indigenous higher education scholarship world as we address the critical gap in data about Native students in higher education. Through the support of the Spencer Foundation, we are able to not only fill that data gap, we are able to provide guidance and resources to all of higher education so institutions can create safe and welcoming environments for indigenous students. Equity in higher education for our people is achieved through honest, informed change and this initiative moves us along the path to that change.

In addition to funding the research project, The Spencer Foundation will disseminate exemplary research about education on its web site, including article abstracts, book chapters, and report summaries to help grantees reach broader audiences and create greater visibility for their work with other scholars, policy makers, and practitioners.

About The Spencer FoundationThe Spencer Foundation has been a leading funder of education research since 1971 and is the only national foundation focused exclusively on supporting education research. We believe education research is integral to improving education, making education systems more equitable, and increasing opportunities to learn across the lifespan.

About the American Indian College FundThe American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 31 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer” and provided $9.25 million in scholarships to American Indian students in 2019-20, with scholarships, program, and community support totaling over $237 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit

Reporters: The American Indian College Fund does not use the acronym AICF. On second reference, please use the College Fund

Dina Horwedel, 303-430-5350

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