College Fund Publishes College-Going Guide for Native Students

The American Indian College Fund, with generous support from the Andrew Mellon Foundation, has published an invaluable tool for Native American high school students seeking higher education. Native Pathways: A College-Going Guidebook provides relatable college-going content for Native students that speaks to their culture, ways of knowing, and experiences as they consider attending college. The guide provides content related to how to get into college, choosing a school, paying for it, and what to expect the first year. There is a lack of relevant, culturally sustaining content tailored for Native students and the process in getting into college. Native Pathways: A College-Going Guidebook was developed to empower Native students to enroll in college with a firm understanding that Native students have much to offer higher education institutions.

The guidebook was created as part of the College Fund’s Native Pathways to College program, also funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The College Fund launched the program to meet the needs of tribal communities and in response to the college-going and completion crisis amongst Native American and Alaska Native students. Research shows the national rate of all students going to college within six months of graduating from high school is 70 percent. For Native American and Alaska Native students, those numbers are closer to 20 percent. We know that there are countless Native students who could be attending college, but they are unable to for many reasons. One is the lack of awareness about the college-going process.

The College Fund knows that education improves the lives of individuals, their families, and entire communities, yet merely providing scholarships to help students pay for college is not enough for Native students to succeed. The College Fund knew it had to create a college-going culture through experiences working with high school students, first-year, students, and two-year college students seeking to continue their education at a four-year school. With a $2.5 million grant renewal from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the College Fund will be able to continue efforts to increase college access and success through the Native Pathways to College Program.

Dr. Matthew Makomenaw, (a member of the Grand Traverse Bay Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians) who created and manages the Native Pathways program, and Dr. Amanda R. Tachine, (a member of the Navajo Nation) co-editor of the guidebook, share ways practitioners can use “Native Pathways: A College-Going Guidebook” to help students plan their college education.

How is this book helpful for Native students?  

Throughout the creation of this guidebook, we had Native youth in mind. Both of us have experience working with Native youth for over 20 years. To do this work well, we knew that it was necessary to bring in others. We were thoughtful in bringing together writers and artists who understood the experiences of Native youth and their dreams/fears of attending college. These talented writers/artists who contributed work at tribal college and universities, mainstream institutions, and the College Fund. They also include current and recent college graduates, and community/national advocates. Collectively, we carefully provided content that speaks to Native youth, that answers questions that we often hear from them, and imparts the powerful message that they can earn a college degree in order to empower them to succeed. The book is divided into four sections that focus on 1) applying to college, 2) paying for college, 3) choosing a college, and 4) transitioning into college (1st year experiences). Through beautiful and creative designs, experiential stories are shared, resources are provided, and questions are raised to help Native students as they consider college as a pathway.

How is this book different from other college-going guides?

This guidebook is unique in that it speaks to the experiences of Native youth. We provide relatable college content that is culturally-sustaining such that Indigenous knowledge is validated and supported. For example, we empower students to ask questions of institutions of higher education that confirm (or do not) the ways they support Native students at their colleges. Questions such as how does the college support or engage with local tribes or Native organizations? Does the college recognize the tribal lands that they are located on? These types of questions are not provided in general college-going guides. Another unique aspect of this guidebook is that there are stories written by current and recent college graduates, such as Tena Bear Don’t Walk’s piece on “Finding A Sense of Belonging,” in which she shares experiences in selecting a college that supported her spiritual, academic, and identity needs. These types of stories are often missing in college-going guides. Every photo, artwork, and contextual details were crafted to do our best to reflect the diversity and multiplicity of Indigenous students, with an understanding that there is much room to strengthen in this work.

Where can I get the book? 

In addition to being able to download the book for free on the College Fund’s web site, you can also get a free copy at a local tribal college. Hard copies may be available for some high schools. Please send an email to for more information.

Who designed that cool cover?

Having Native artists was key to this work. We wanted to have creative designers who understood the criticality of providing aesthetics that speaks to Native youth. Jonathon Nelson, who is Diné from Hogback, New Mexico, and currently resides in Denver, designed the cover, titled, “Kindred Mocs.” He states, “The artwork represents the same steps we all take to advocate for Indigenous Peoples; whether for our own communities, our tribes, or all Indigenous nations.” In addition to the cover, Nelson designed the layout and graphics of the entire magazine. Nelson is an illustrator, graphic artist, and fine artist. The goal of his artwork is, according to Nelson, “to create an authentic portrayal of Indigenous peoples to decimate stereotypes of Indigenous cultures.” You can learn more about his work at

Some of the photos included were by Matika Wilbur, from the Swinomish and Tulalip Tribes of Washington. She is the creator of Project 562, a project dedicated to photographing the over 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States.

Amanda Cheromiah, who is Pueblo from Laguna, also provided photos.

We give thanks to these artists for their gifts and contributions to the guidebook.

What words of advice do you have for practitioners who are seeking ways to advance educational equity?

Do not exclude Native students in your conversations regarding educational equity. We have seen much good work from people who are advocating educational equity but are not including Natives in those efforts. This is a growing concern that must be addressed. Learn from Native students by asking them what challenges they are encountering to achieve college attainment and also what strengthens them to do their best in school and in life. Much knowledge is gained when we take the time to listen to students. They are some of our greatest teachers. We also encourage practitioners to learn about the history and contemporary issues facing Indigenous peoples, especially the local Tribal nations within your school district. This means understanding that the lands that schools reside on are Indigenous lands. There are many resources to support practitioners in advancing ways to support Native students. The Native Pathways guidebook is a great starting point and will help practitioners get a sense of types of conversations to have with Native students. To learn about the initiatives provided at the College Fund and ways to support our efforts, visit our website at

Join ACAC and American Indian College Fund for a webinar, Introduction to New College-Going Guidebook for Native American Students, June 3 at 2:00 PM EDT. Register here