Dissertation: Tamara Christine Cheshire

Cohort 3, published 2012


Barriers and Bridges: American Indian Community College Student Resiliency and Success


This mixed methods study determined self-perceived needs, barriers, and resiliency characteristics that impact the academic success of American Indian community college students at Sacramento City College. The study was done to provide community colleges with further insight into the American Indian student experience to create an avenue for sustained institutional change to positively impact student success rates. Tribal Critical Race Theory and Reziliency Theory were combined to create a comprehensive theoretical framework through which to understand the experiences of American Indian students. For this study, success is defined as meeting the needs, eliminating the barriers, and reinforcing resiliency characteristics of American Indian students working toward the completion of a desired academic goal.

Quantitative data came from student surveys with questions focusing on needs, barriers, and resiliency characteristics. Qualitative data came from follow-up focus groups to obtain deeper insight into the three previously mentioned variables.

The researcher found that American Indian student needs fell into one of three categories: family support, financial support, or college support/services. Support from family members attending college, financial support and advising, and college support in the forms of academic counseling, cultural competency training, caring professors, Native student recognition, outreach and programming, Native student recruitment and retention, support for Native student organizations, involvement and networking with the external Native community, drug and alcohol counseling, and services like RISE and EOPS who provide advising, labs and other resources were found to be significant needs.

Internal and external barriers exist for Native students. Internal barriers are controllable through the college and include a system linked to the perpetuation of racial stereotypes, which specifically result in making Native students invisible on campus; an inaccurate course curriculum or content reinforced by culturally incompetent, uncaring professors; bureaucratic or restrictive admissions practices; bureaucratic financial aid services; limited number and variety of course offerings; condescending tutors; the costs and availability of books; and transportation issues. External barriers over which the institution has no control include a lack of tribal support, lack of financial resources/support or inadequate finances, lack of family support, too many family demands, and how Native students feel about asking for help. It is important for the institution to be aware of the external barriers because they impact student needs within the internal academic environment. Interconnection between barriers prevents students from achieving success.

Resiliency is defined as the skills or processes by which people cope with oppressive conditions. Native students have unmet needs and have experienced barriers rooted in racism and oppression; therefore, they have had to develop coping mechanisms or resiliency characteristics to survive and be successful. Resiliency characteristics were scholarship/financial support, spiritual support, social/community support, friend or peer/mentor support, community as family or sources of motivation and support, mentoring, friend and peer support, support services that teach resiliency characteristics like RISE and the Native American Studies Program, caring professors and counselors, as well as acts of resistance or survivance.

A Student Success Equation was created. Furthermore when the equation was applied, a Student Success Model was produced incorporating factors that impact student success. Conclusions drawn from this research provide an applied context by which community colleges can enact transformative and transformational change to increase American Indian student success.

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