Native American Students

26 September 2018 In Factsheets

Native American Students in Higher Education

Because Native Americans (both American Indians and Alaska Natives) comprise only 1% of the U.S. undergraduate population and less than 1% of the graduate population, these students are often left out of postsecondary research and data reporting due to small sample size. What data is available indicates that only 10% of Native Americans attain bachelor’s degrees and only 17% attain associate degrees, making the case for a system that is more responsive to the specific needs of these students.


  • 17% of Native American students continue their education after high school compared to 60% of the U.S. population.
  • Undergraduate enrollment among Native Americans aged 18 to 24 decreased from 128,600 in 2016–17 to 124,000 in 2017–18. Postbaccalaureate enrollment decreased from 13,700 in 2016–17 to 13,600 in 2017–18.
  • Native American students are more likely to attend public versus private institutions of higher education.
    • 80% of Native American students attended public two- or four-year institutions in 2014.
  • 78% of all students at Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCU) in 2010 were considered Native American, a percentage that has increased annually.
    • 7% of all Native American college students attended a TCU in the fall of 2010.


  • Completion rates for Native American students fall below those of their white counterparts.
    • 23% of first-time, full-time Native American students attending four-year institutions beginning in 2008 graduated within four years, compared to nearly 44% for white students.
    • 41% of Native American bachelor’s degree-seeking students graduated within six years, compared to nearly 63% of white students.
  • In 2017, 27% of Native Americans attained an associate degree or higher, compared to 54% of white students.
  • Between 2000 and 2017, the percentage of Native Americans aged 25 to 29 who had attained at least an associate or bachelor’s degree dropped.
    • In 2000, 30% of Native Americans aged 25 to 29 had attained at least an associate or bachelor’s degree. In 2017, that number fell to 27%.


  • It is difficult to track accurate college participation rates for Native American students as they are not tracked at all attainment levels.
  • Native American students are more likely to need and receive federal financial assistance than white students.
    • In 2011–12, 85% of Native American students received some type of federal grant aid, compared with 69% of white students.
    • 62% of Native American students take out some kind of federal student loan, compared to 56% of white students.
  • Native American students are less likely to be prepared for college because they are more likely to attend high schools that offer little to no access to Advanced Placement or college prep courses.
  • Native American students are also less likely to have family members that have attended college. In 2017, 21% of Native American children under 18 years of age lived in a household with a parent who completed a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 52% of white households.


The Condition of Education 2019. National Center of Education Statistics, May 2019.

Status and Trends in the Education of Racial and Ethnic Groups 2017. National Center for Education Statistics, July 2017.

For Native Students, a Deepening Divide. The Chronicle of Higher Education, July 2016.

How Native Students Can Succeed in College: ‘Be As Tough As The Land That Made You”. National Public Radio, September 2016.

Native American Students Going to and Staying in Postsecondary Education: An Intervention Perspective. American Indian Culture and Research Journal, 2013.

Tribal Colleges and Universities. Department of Education.

Creating Visibility and Healthy Learning Environments for Native Americans in Higher Education. American Indian College Fund, 2019.

Graduation Rates & American Indian Education. Partnership with Native Americans, May 2017.

Updated October 2019