Are American Indian Students the Least Prepared for College?

Just 10 percent of American Indian students met all four of the ACT's college readiness benchmarks in 2013.

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Despite the fact that many American Indian students want to pursue an education past high school, most appear to be unprepared to do so, and may be more unprepared than any other racial or ethnic group in America, according to recently published data from the ACT. 

[READ: Graduation Rates Dropping Among Native American Students]

In 2013, more than half (52 percent) of the 14,217 American Indian students who took the ACT met none of its four college readiness benchmarks, which attempt to measure a student's chance of earning a C or higher in each of four core subjects: English, reading, mathematics and science. Just 10 percent of the test-takers met all four benchmarks. For the overall student population in the United States, just 31 percent of students met none of the benchmarks and 26 percent met all four.

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Just 10 percent of American Indian students met all four of the ACT's college readiness benchmarks in 2013.

The data, presented in the ACT's report on the state of college and career readiness of American Indian students, also show the percentage of those students who completed the ACT-recommended core curriculum is lower than any other racial or ethnic group, as is the rate of college enrollment among American Indian graduates. Still, 86 percent said they want to pursue some type of postsecondary education.

But the percentage of American Indian students who meet the ACT's subject benchmarks has been steadily declining during the last five years in every subject except science. In 2009, for example, 50 percent of students met the English college readiness benchmark, compared with 41 percent in 2013. In science, 18 percent of students met the college readiness benchmark in 2013, which is up from 16 percent in 2009. 

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The percentage of American Indian students meeting ACT subject benchmarks has declined in all but one subject since 2009.

Additionally, while most other racial and ethnic groups have seen an overall increase in the percentage of students meeting three or more of the ACT's college readiness benchmarks, American Indian students are the only group that has experienced a decline in that area since 2009.

"The disconnect we see between postsecondary aspirations on the one hand and preparation and enrollment on the other is particularly pronounced in our research on American Indian students," said Scott Montgomery, ACT vice president of policy, advocacy and government relations, in a statement. "While these results paint a stark picture, they can help us identify appropriate ways to improve success for these students."

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College enrollment for American Indian students is lower than any other racial or ethnic group. 

Although the national high school graduation rate is the highest it's been in 40 years, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, American Indian and Alaska Native students have the second-lowest high school graduation rate of any racial or ethnic group, at 69 percent. African-American students have the lowest graduation rate, at 66 percent. Both of those rates are lower than the national average of 78.2 percent for public high school students in 2009-10, and lower still than the 71.0 percent graduation rate of 1995-96, the lowest point during the last 20 years when the survey data was analyzed. 

But the student population also faces significant hurdles to overcome, compared with other racial and ethnic groups. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), more than 16 million children in America, or 22 percent of all children, live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level. But poverty rates are highest among black, Latino and American Indian children, according to the NCCP website.

[SEE ALSO: 4 Scholarships for American Indian Students]

It's been shown that children who live in poverty early in life often face challenges academically later in life.

Theresa Pouley, chief judge of the Tulalip Tribal Court in Washington state recently told The Washington Post that one-quarter of American Indian children live in poverty. She went on to list a number of other issues that affect the well-being of American Indian children. 

"Their substance-abuse rates are higher," she told the Post. "They’re twice as likely as any other race to die before the age of 24. They have a 2.3 percent higher rate of exposure to trauma. They have two times the rate of abuse and neglect. Their experience with post-traumatic stress disorder rivals the rates of returning veterans from Afghanistan."