Three Oklahoma universities top a list of American Indian bachelor's degree producers in the nation, according to a report by Diverse Issues in Higher Education, a national publication.
Northeastern State University, Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma had the most American Indian students who earned bachelor's degrees in 2008-09, the report shows. State universities made up six of the top 12 schools, and 12 of the top 100. Other high-ranking universities were Southeastern Oklahoma State University, East Central University and the University of Central Oklahoma.
Oklahoma schools consistently top the list, officials said. Representatives from several top-ranking universities said their universities have strong American Indian programs, services and student groups that attract students. Oklahoma also has a large American Indian population from which to draw, officials said.
About 11 percent (406,492 people) of Oklahoma's population was identified as American Indian or Alaska Native in 2008, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
That number marks the second-highest American Indian and Alaska Native population among states.
Having a large population of American Indian students allows schools to develop strong programs and student organizations, said Russell Harjo, a senior at NSU.
His school tied with OSU for the highest number of American Indian baccalaureate graduates in 2008-09, according to the report.
Harjo is actively involved with several American Indian student groups. He has attended national conferences with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society. He is also involved with the Center for Tribal Studies, one of the main factors that attracted him to attend NSU, Harjo said.
The center helps foster an environment that supports and values the traditions of American Indian cultural heritage through a variety of programs and partnerships.
About 30 percent of students at NSU are American Indian, said Phyllis Fife, director of the Center for Tribal Studies. She said NSU has a sense of community and tradition that is comforting to American Indian students. It's not unusual to walk across campus on a nice day and see a group of students playing stickball, Fife said.
Location aids NSU
NSU's location also helps attract many American Indian students, Fife said. The main campus is near the Cherokee Nation headquarters in Tahlequah and surrounded by several lakes and a river. Fife uses those natural elements as a resource for a class she teaches on Cherokee cultural heritage.
NSU and OSU had about 370 American Indian students who graduated with bachelor's degrees in 2008-09, according to the report. Jason Kirksey, associate vice president for institutional diversity at OSU, said the university has been working to strengthen its relationships with tribal communities throughout the state.
OSU offers a variety of programs and resources for such students, including an American Indian sorority and fraternity, a living and learning community, and research programs geared toward American Indian students. This spring, OSU had four Udall Scholars, an honor awarded to students dedicated to careers involving the environment, tribal public policy or American Indian health care.
"We're certainly proud of the efforts that we've been making and have committed to continue making," Kirksey said.