Oregon State University is increasing its outreach to Native American communities in Oregon and across the country by enabling tribal members to earn college degrees through OSU's nationally ranked online programs.
The new initiative is a partnership between Oregon State Ecampus — the university's renowned online education provider — and OSU's Office of Institutional Diversity to help Native Americans easily navigate the higher education landscape and assist them toward graduation.
"As a land grant institution, OSU is uniquely poised to provide a high-quality, accessible education for all," said Oregon State President Ed Ray. "We value and acknowledge our moral and ethical responsibility to Native Americans, who are the original stewards of this land, and are pleased to advance our mission of service by partnering in developing distance education programs that align with tribal goals."
Nationally, Native American and Alaska Native students had the lowest total college enrollment rate (19%) among all ethnic groups in 2016, according to a report published in February by the National Center for Education Statistics. Meanwhile, Native student enrollment fell by 28% nationwide from 2010 to 2016.
"We are committed to help reverse these trends," said Allison Davis-White Eyes, director of community diversity relations in OSU's Office of Institutional Diversity. "Oregon State hopes not only to raise awareness of online degree programs that are ideal for place-bound students in remote communities, but it is also offering a unique blend of student services to increase retention and degree completion rates."
Marleigh Perez, Ecampus director of student success, will serve as the primary point of contact for each Native student enrolled in a degree program online. Support staff also will include a dedicated Ecampus success coach, who will hold regular, one-on-one success coaching appointments to help learners identify support resources, improve academic skills and address obstacles to success.
"Community, connection and place are central aspects of the Native experience," Davis-White Eyes said. "OSU's online degree offerings through Ecampus are a sensitive response that addresses what is important to tribal communities and individuals."
Oregon State Ecampus serves students in all 50 states and more than 50 countries. Student engagement is a key reason why OSU has been ranked in the top 10 for online education five years in a row by U.S. News & World Report.
While learning from a distance, Ecampus students have numerous avenues to interact with the OSU community through clubs and organizations. The university's Native American Longhouse Eena Haws is a physical space on the Corvallis campus, but its members — both staff and students — help form a sense of community for anyone no matter where they live.
Oregon State's online classroom is also a place where students build connections with a worldwide network of classmates, as well as those from similar backgrounds.
"The first week of classes, we would have introductions on message boards, and I would say I was Penobscot Indian, trying to reach out to other Native students," said Orman Morton III, a Baltimore resident who earned his OSU degree online in environmental sciences. "It was amazing to have four, five, six people in every class say, 'Yeah, I'm Native,' and make that connection."
"We formed discussion groups and presented on course topics from a Native American perspective. That was important," he said.
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