With a new name and new funding, Native Forward aims to double its impact for students

It was a banner year for the Native Forward Scholars Fund, the largest provider of scholarships for Native American undergraduate, graduate and professional students. A new name and a lot more funding add to an organization that is ready – according to its CEO, Angelique Albert – to “double its impact”.

Native Forward’s history goes back more than 50 years. It all started as the National Indian Scholarship Program, founded at the University of New Mexico in August 1969 by two men – Robert L. Bennett (Oneida) and John C. Rainer (Taos Pueblo).

In 1989, when the organization celebrated its 20th anniversary, it was renamed the American Indian Graduate Center, a name it retained until that year. The name was chosen to reflect the expansion of the organization to become a national center with more services and activities.

The Center reached another milestone in 2001 when it was selected as one of four partner organizations to help administer the Gates Millennium Scholarship program. He established American Indian Graduate Center Scholars, Inc to manage the scholarship, and he doubled his staff and office space around this time.

The scholarship was funded by a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, with the goal of funding 20,000 outstanding American Indian/Alaska Native, African American, Asian Pacific American, and Hispanic students with low income so they can complete the undergraduate degree. of their choice.

A new name

In 2022, the name of the organization was changed to the Native Forward Scholars Fund. Explaining the name change, Holly Cook Macarro, President of the Native Forward Board (Red Lake Band of Ojibwe) said, “The two words Native Forward represent a clear statement of our vision and mission to fund and empower the next generation of Indigenous leaders. The name also speaks clearly to our collective histories and cultures and how we continue to support the path to opportunity for the Indigenous scholars we serve. Since the origin of our organization, our work has supported the forward movement of our Indigenous communities – opening up new opportunities and establishing new horizons for our scholars. Ultimately, Native Forward highlights how, in turn, our scholars continue to share their knowledge, gifts, and talents with their individual communities.

Through endowment donations, federal resources, corporate support, and private donations from foundations, alumni, and individuals, the organization has continued to grow and, to date, has provided approximately $350 million in scholarships to more than 20,000 beneficiaries.

These recipients come from all 50 states, representing more than 500 federally recognized tribes. They attended undergraduate, graduate, or professional schools at 1,700 different institutions of higher learning.

About 60% of Native Forward Scholars Fund recipients attend graduate or vocational school, with the remaining 40% using their scholarships to help pay for their undergraduate education. Less than 10% of scholars attend a tribal college or university, a figure that is not surprising given the number of postgraduate graduates and the few tribal institutions offering a range of graduate degree options .

In the past fiscal year, the organization awarded nearly $14 million in scholarships and academic support services to 1,340 Indigenous scholars. These scholars represented 202 tribes from 49 states.

The average scholarship is around $11,000 per year, and many scholarships are renewable as long as students maintain adequate academic progress. Even with this level of support, most scholarship recipients face a significant funding gap to afford a college education – their annual unmet financial need averages around $26,000.

New funding

In 2020, the then American Indian Graduate Center received the largest donation in its history – a $20 million unrestricted gift from Mackenzie Scott. Albert spoke of the impact she expected from this gift: “One of the greatest gifts a person can give is access to education, and this gift will provide that to thousands of Indigenous scholars and will transform the landscape of higher education for Aboriginal people. The impact of this gift, not only on Indigenous students, but on Indian Country as a whole, is so profound that we will feel the effects for generations to come.

A greater impact

With the help of Scott Funding and other resources, Native Forward is looking up with a new strategic plan to double its impact over the next five years. Among its objectives:

  • Increase the overall percentage of Aboriginal undergraduate students it funds from 1% to 2%.
  • Increase the overall percentage of Aboriginal graduate students/professionals it funds from 4% to 8%.
  • Increase annual revenue by $16-30 million.
  • Increase support staff from 20 to 50.
  • Expand funding to include tribal descendants and state-recognized tribal members in addition to federally recognized tribal members who are now eligible.
  • Add new funding mechanisms to address costs such as doctoral research, testing fees, certification and licensing expenses, and emergency needs that may arise as they have so often during the pandemic .
  • Continue to scale up the one-on-one support that Native Forward staff provide to each scholarship recipient, strengthening the holistic support services that Albert wants every student to rely on.

These goals reflect Native Forward’s recognition of the educational disparities still faced by Indigenous communities. For example, Native American adults are half as likely to have a bachelor’s degree compared to the general US population, and only 19% of Native Americans and Alaska Natives between the ages of 18 and 24 are enrolled in college. university, compared to 41% of the general American population.

Native Forward bends those numbers in the right direction. Its undergraduate students have a 69% graduation rate, compared to the national average of 41% for Indigenous students, and 95% of its graduate students complete their programs. Yet Albert knows that the needs remain deep.

“We can only fund 18% of our applicants,” she said. “Students who come to us are eager to pursue higher education, but the cost of this education is difficult and in some cases prohibitive. It is a solvable problem. With more resources, we can ensure that every Indigenous scholar is empowered to achieve their goals.

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