Which Foundation Is Helping Boost Native Americans' College Graduation Rates?

Students of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation know that the grantmaker is particularly keen on boosting parity and access across all facets of civil society.

Take the curatorial world. African Americans account for 13 percent of the U.S. population, yet they account for only 3 percent of museum attendees. Latinos, meanwhile, constitute 15 percent of the population, but represent five percent of all museum attendees. 

And so Mellon rolled out a new fellowship to diversify the museum ranks a little over two years ago.

Or take the field of classical music. According to a survey of the 22 largest American orchestras, women composers accounted for only 1.8 percent of the total pieces performed in the 2014-2015 concert season. 

And so late last year, Mellon awarded the Dallas Opera a $500,000 grant in support of an initiative designed to "support the career aspirations and advancement of female conductors, while addressing the problems resulting from gender inequality at the top of the profession."

Which brings us to the arena of higher education, where Mellon awarded $2.4 million to the American Indian College Fund's new Native Pathways to College Project, a three-year program aimed at increasing Native Americans' college graduation rates.

The program consists of three distinct components. First, the College Admission Pathways component will work to increase the number of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) junior and senior high school students who "consider college as an option, increasing their financial readiness for colleges, guiding them through the admissions process, and easing their transition to college."

The Transfer Pathways component, meanwhile, will support the transfer of students attending two-year tribal colleges to four-year institutions. Lastly, the Pathways Bridges Program will increase admissions testing and college readiness of high school students through academic preparedness strategies delivered by the tribal colleges.

There is no shortage of programs out there to help transition specific demographics or populations toward college. It just so happens that the American Indian College Fund's three-pronged approach, built on consultation, supporting transfers, and boosting testing readiness has proven exceptionally successful—a point that wasn't lost on the Mellon Foundation.

"The project of improving college-going rates and transfer rates for AIAN students is extremely important to the nation and the best hope we have of growing the number of college graduates. The Mellon Foundation recognizes the unique importance, credibility and capacity of the College Fund to be able to tackle this problem in the most strategic way," said Armando I. Bengochea, Program Officer at foundation.

In related news, check out our take on the Sloan Foundation's plan to boost Native American PhDs here.