Contact: Dina Horwedel, Director of Public Education, American Indian College Fund, 303-426-8900, [email protected]

Native Students Have Lowest National High School Attainment Rates; Progress Needed to Achieve Equity in Native Communities

Denver, Colo.—September 29, 2021– The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is continuing its work with the American Indian College Fund to increase the number of Native American high school graduates through the award of $300,000 for the Native Students Stepping Forward: Dollar General High School Equivalency Completion program.

The Native Students Stepping Forward program will provide affordable, culturally based high school equivalency (HSE) learning services to an estimated 400 students at approximately six tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) located on or near Indian reservations—where no other such services exist. To date, through the College Fund’s partnership with the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, 257 students graduated from HSE programs hosted at the TCUs. These successes significantly impact the students’ families and communities.

The program aims to help TCUs increase HSE enrollment, retention, and/or graduation rates and improve adult literacy in the communities they serve over the year-long grant period. TCU program facilitators will help the College Fund to assess successes, challenges, and solutions in providing HSE services to Native communities; gauge the impact of increased funding focused on systemic needs to enhance HSE services; and identify best practices in TCU HSE programming to share the success with other Native communities.

Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said, “The College Fund and the Dollar General Literacy Foundation share a vision of educational and career success by meeting people where they are. Their commitment to literacy and high school equivalency programming changes lives and we appreciate their investment.”

“We are honored to stand alongside the College Fund to serve students as they take steps towards their High School Equivalency,” said Denine Torr, Dollar General Literacy Foundation’s executive director. “Through our partnership, we hope to continue providing opportunities for Native American students to achieve their

educational goals and create bright futures for themselves, their families, and their communities.”

The pandemic has impacted Native American students in tribal communities the hardest, due to economic and health care inequities on tribal lands. In addition, limited access to technology has hindered access to schools with remote learning environments. Prior to the pandemic, Natives already had the lowest high school graduation rates in the nation at 74% compared to the national average of 86%. As a result, college enrollment and attainment rates were also lower with 19% of 18–25-year-old AI/AN students enrolled in college compared to 32.1% of the overall U.S. population, and college degree attainment rates at less than half that of other groups, at 15% compared to 32.1%.

College enrollment also suffered during the pandemic among American Indian and Alaska Native students, with Native first-time student enrollment experiencing the steepest decline of all racial/ethnic groups in the country, down 23% at all colleges and universities nationwide.

To create the leaders, educators, health care workers, and businesspeople Native communities need, the American Indian College Fund knows that higher education is the answer. To attain that goal, American Indian and Alaska Native students must complete high school first. The goal of the Native Students Stepping Forward: Dollar General High School Equivalency Completion program is to help students like Monique Gonzales do just that.

Monique earned her HSE at Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona while simultaneously earning college credits through Arizona’s College Credit Pathway program. Inspired by her twin brothers, who are hearing-impaired and who attended Arizona School of Deaf and Blind in Tucson, Monique realized her skills gained while serving as their interpreter could help others.

Monique said, “I can spread my knowledge about the deaf community with the Nation and other Native American tribes, as we lack this knowledge and these accommodations.” Today she is studying to earn an associate degree in applied science and deaf studies with certification in American Sign Language Interpreting at Phoenix College. She plans to transfer to Grand Canyon University or Gallaudet University to earn a bachelor’s degree, then earn a master’s degree.

About the Dollar General Literacy Foundation—The Dollar General Literacy Foundation is proud to support initiatives that help others improve their lives through literacy and education. Since 1993, the Foundation has awarded more than $203 million in grants, helping more than 14.8 million individuals take their first steps toward literacy, a general education diploma or English proficiency. Cal Turner, Jr. founded the Dollar General Literacy Foundation to honor his grandfather and Dollar General’s co-founder, J.L. Turner, who was functionally illiterate having dropped out of school in the third grade to support his family. The Foundation aims to provide support to schools, libraries and nonprofit organizations that seek to improve adult, summer, youth, and family literacy initiatives. To learn more about the Dollar General Literacy Foundation, visit www.dgliteracy.org.

About the American Indian College Fund—The 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, please visit www.collegefund.org.

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

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