The Christian Science Monitor : 2020-12-07

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HUMANITY BEHIND THE HEADLINES “I know school is important and stuff, but I needed a job because my family was running low on food,” she says. “I was really trying to juggle everything, and I couldn’t.” Even before the pandemic, roughly two-thirds of tribal college students reported experienci­ng food or housing insecurity, according to a recent survey by the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice. With so many of their students struggling financiall­y, several tribal colleges offered free or reduced tuition this fall. Some of these colleges, including Tohono O’odham, saw their enrollment increase. Others, like the Navajo Nation’s Diné College, which offered a 50% tuition discount, lost freshmen anyway. Monty Roessel, Diné’s president, attributes the 42% drop, in part, to transporta­tion and child care issues. With the reservatio­n’s bus system down, some students have no way to get to campus for those classes that remain in-person. Others must stay home to supervise siblings or their own children while schools are closed. To entice them to enroll in the spring, Diné plans to offer evening classes at high schools to avoid long commutes to the Diné campus. The college is also extending its 50% discount. But as the pandemic drags on, hope for a 2021 rebound in freshman numbers nationwide is fading. Compared with this time last year, fewer high school seniors have filled out the Free Applicatio­n for Federal Student Aid – a key signal of their intent to enroll and a leading indicator of enrollment. As of early November, FAFSA completion­s were down 20% at schools with high concentrat­ions of students of color, according to the National College Access Network. In Point Hope, Alaska, where the polar night is about to descend, Ms. Oviok is planning to take her high school counselor’s advice and enroll in the tribal college in the spring. She’s a little disappoint­ed not to be off to college in Fairbanks, but she doesn’t regret her decision. “I like my culture, the whaling festivitie­s, how close our community is,” she says. “In the city, you don’t know anyone.” BRIAN LEDDY/GALLUP INDEPENDEN­T/AP/FILE ADAPTING: The pandemic upended Alaska Native Ebony Oviok’s plans (photo left) to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks, but she expects to enroll in a nearby tribal college in the spring. Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona (photo above), the oldest tribally controlled college, offered half-price tuition in the fall and will again for next semester. “We had a good group accepted, and they just started falling by the wayside,” she says. More than three-quarters of the nation’s tribal colleges have lost first-time students this fall, with an average reported decrease of nearly 75%, according to a survey by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). But a handful of institutio­ns appear to be benefiting from the shift to online learning. Tohono O’odham Community College, in Arizona, grew its freshman class by almost 150%, in part by adding students from Phoenix and other parts of the state who live too far away to commute. In a typical year, the college serves students from 10 tribes; this year, it has students from 45, says Paul Robertson, president of Tohono O’odham. “Pre-COVID, tribal colleges were serving students who lived within the geographic area,” says Carrie Billy, president and CEO of AIHEC. “Now, because they’re offering online, students from anywhere can enroll.” unemployme­nt rates are forcing young people to put off college to work to support their families. Raven Culbertson, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe in North Dakota, is among them. “I know school is important ... but I needed a job because my family was running low on food. I was really trying to juggle everything, and I couldn’t.” – Raven Culbertson, Spirit Lake Tribe member who left college to work full time When the pandemic hit, her grandfathe­r stopped working because underlying health issues put him at risk of severe illness. Ms. Culbertson thought she could balance online classes at the local tribal college with a fulltime job at Walmart, but she was quickly overwhelme­d. She quit school after just three weeks. Deep discounts The dramatic decline in freshman enrollment isn’t due to technology challenges alone. In many communitie­s of color, high r THE CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR WEEKLY | DECEMBER 7, 2020 9 PRINTED AND DISTRIBUTE­D BY PRESSREADE­R PressReade­ +1 604 278 4604 ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY . ORIGINAL COPY COPYRIGHT AND PROTECTED BY APPLICABLE LAW