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Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008

NCES 2008-084
September 2008


Status and Trends in the Education of American Indians and Alaska Natives: 2008 examines both the educational progress of American Indian/Alaska Native children and adults and challenges in their education. This report shows that over time more American Indian/Alaska Native students have gone on to college and that their attainment expectations have increased. Despite these gains, progress has been uneven and differences persist between American Indian/Alaska Native students and students of other racial/ethnic groups on key indicators of educational performance.

Demographic Overview

  • In 2006, there were 4.5 million American Indians/Alaska Natives in the United States, representing 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population. (Indicator 1.1)
  • In 2006, almost half (49 percent) of all American Indians/Alaska Natives alone,1 including those of Hispanic ethnicity, resided in western states. (Indicator 1.2)
  • In 2003, there were more than 560 federally recognized American Indian/Alaska Native tribes, with the largest tribes being Cherokee and Navajo. (Indicator 1.3)
  • Since 1990, the median age of American Indians/Alaska Natives, including those of Hispanic ethnicity, increased by 5 years, from 26 to 31. In 2006, the median age for the general population was 36 years. (Indicator 1.4)
  • In 2006, 27 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native individuals lived in poverty compared to 13 percent of the general population. At 36 percent, the American Indian/Alaska Native poverty rate was higher among families on reservations than among families in other American Indian/Alaska Native areas in 1999. (Indicator 1.6)
  • In 2005, the overall fertility rate for American Indian/Alaska Native women (ages 15 to 44 years) was 60 births per 1,000 women, which was lower than that for women in general (67 per 1,000); however, birth rates for young American Indian/Alaska Native women (ages 15 to 24 years) were higher than among young women overall (53 per 1,000 compared to 41 per 1,000 for 15– to 19–year–olds and 109 per 1,000 compared to 102 per 1,000 for 20– to 24– year–olds). Infant and child mortality rates for American Indians/Alaska Natives were higher than those for all infants and children under age 20. For example, the child mortality rate for 15– to 19–year–olds was higher for American Indians/Alaska Natives (94 per 100,000) than compared to the general population (65 per 100,000). (Indicator 1.8)

Preprimary, Elementary, and Secondary Education

  • During the 2005–06 school year, some 644,000 public elementary and secondary school students, or about 1 percent of all public school students, were American Indian/Alaska Native. (Indicator 2.1)
  • During 2006–07, Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) schools served nearly 48,500 American Indian/Alaska Native students. (Indicator 2.2)
  • In 2006, some 14 percent of American Indian/ Alaska Native children were served by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), which was a higher percentage than the percentage of children in all racial/ethnic groups. In comparison, 9 percent of the general population was served under IDEA. (Indicator 2.3)
  • A larger percentage (66 percent) of American Indian/Alaska Native 8th–grade students reported absences from school in the preceding month than 8th–grade students of any other race/ethnicity in 2007 (36 to 57 percent). (Indicator 3.1)
  • In 2004, American Indian/Alaska Native students in grades kindergarten through 12 had a lower suspension rate (7 percent) than Black students (15 percent), but a higher rate than students of all other racial/ethnic groups. (Indicator 3.2)
  • In 2006, a smaller percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students (75 percent) reported receiving a high school diploma than White (91 percent) and Asian/Pacific Islander students (93 percent). (Indicator 3.3)
  • In 2006, only Hispanic young adults had a higher status dropout rate (21 percent) than American Indian/Alaska Native young adults (15 percent). Status dropout rates represent the percentage of 16– to 24–year–olds who are out of school and who have not earned a high school diploma or General Educational Development (GED) credential. (Indicator 3.4)
  • A smaller percentage of American Indian/ Alaska Native 2–year–olds than 2–year–olds in all other groups demonstrated specific cognitive skills in vocabulary, listening comprehension, matching, and counting in 2003–04. For example, 74 percent of American Indian/ Alaska Native children demonstrated receptive vocabulary, compared to 84 percent of all children. (Indicator 4.1)
  • On the 2007 4th– and 8th–grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics assessments, American Indian/Alaska Native students generally scored lower than White and Asian/Pacific Islander students but not measurably different from Hispanic students. (Indicators 4.2 and 4.3)
  • A higher percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native high school graduates completed core academic high school coursework in 2005 (36 percent) than in 1982 (3 percent). However, these percentages were smaller than the comparable percentages for the total population of students (52 percent in 2005 and 10 percent in 1982). (Indicator 4.6)
  • On the sections measuring critical reading and mathematics of the 2007 SAT college entrance exam, American Indian/Alaska Native students scored lower than the national average, but higher than Black and Hispanic students. In critical reading, American Indians/Alaska Natives had an average score of 497, which was higher than the scores for Black students (433) and Mexican American students (455), but lower than the overall average (502). (Indicator 4.9)
  • In 2007, 78 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native 8th–graders in public schools reported using a computer at home, which was lower than the percentage for 8th–graders of any other racial/ethnic group (82 to 96 percent). (Indicator 5.2)
  • In 2007, greater than 25 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native children in grades 4 and 8 reported use of a traditional language within the family at least half of the time. (Indicator 5.4)
  • At grade 4, some 31 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students attending high density schools (in which American Indians/ Alaska Natives made up at least a fourth of the enrollment) had administrators who reported visits by American Indian/Alaska Native community members to share traditions and culture three or more times during the school year, compared to 9 percent in low density schools. (Indicator 5.5)
  • Higher percentages of American Indian/Alaska Native students in schools in which American Indians/Alaska Natives made up at least a fourth of the enrollment had administrators who reported specific problems in school climate than did American Indian/Alaska Native students in lower density schools. In 2007, 4th– and 8th–grade students in these high density schools had administrators who reported serious problems with student absenteeism, student tardiness, lack of family involvement, and low expectations. (Indicator 5.6)
  • In 2006, some 21 percent of American Indian/ Alaska Native children between the ages of 12 and 17 reported the use of alcohol in the past month, compared to 11 percent of Black and 8 percent of Asian children who did so. (Indicator 5.7)

Postsecondary Education

  • The number of American Indian/Alaska Native students enrolled in colleges and universities has more than doubled in the past 30 years. In 2006, American Indian/Alaska Native students accounted for 1 percent of total enrollment in colleges and universities. (Indicator 6.1)
  • In 2006, there were 32 tribally controlled colleges and universities, located in 12 different states; the majority were scattered across the West and Midwest, and one was located in Alaska. Total enrollment in tribally controlled colleges and universities increased by 23 percent between 2001 and 2006. (Indicator 6.2)
  • Between the 1976–77 and 2005–06 school years, the number of degrees awarded by colleges and universities to American Indians/ Alaska Natives more than doubled for each level of degree. For example, 3,300 bachelor's degrees were awarded to American Indians/ Alaska Natives in 1976–77, compared to 10,900 awarded in 2005–06. (Indicator 6.4)
  • While a greater percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students earned their bachelor's degrees in business than in other fields in the 2005–06 school year, the percentage who earned their degrees in business (19 percent) was smaller than that of all students (21 percent). (Indicator 6.5)
  • In 2005–06, 52 percent of the master's degrees award to American Indians/Alaska Natives were in the fields of education or business. Forty–eight percent of the doctoral degrees awarded to American Indians/Alaska Natives were in the fields of education, psychology, and social sciences and history. (Indicator 6.6)
  • In 2005, American Indians/Alaska Natives constituted less than 1 percent of faculty in degree–granting institutions. (Indicator 6.7)

Outcomes of Education

  • In 2007, some 44 percent of American Indians/ Alaska Natives age 25 or older had attended some college or completed an undergraduate or graduate degree. Approximately 36 percent of American Indians/Alaska Natives had completed high school without continuing on to a postsecondary institution, and 20 percent had not finished high school. (Indicator 7.1)
  • A higher percentage of American Indians/ Alaska Natives, 16 and over, were unemployed in 2007 (12 percent) compared to the percentages of Whites (4 percent), Hispanics (6 percent), and Asian/Pacific Islanders (3 percent). (Indicator 7.2)
  • In 2006, the median annual earnings for 25– to 34–year–olds in the general population who were employed full–year, full–time was $35,000. The median annual earnings for 25– to 34– year–old American Indians/Alaska Natives was $27,000. (Indicator 7.3)


1 "Alone" refers to respondents who self identified as American Indian/Alaska Native and not any other race category.

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