Is early childhood education the key to more American Indians going to college?

The Ké’ Early Childhood Initiative convenes today in Albuquerque and will bring together 45 representatives from four American Indian tribal colleges who will discuss strategies for better early childhood education and family involvement in the community.

The meeting is sponsored by the American Indian College Fund’s Early Childhood Education program which attempts to “strengthen the role of Native families in early learning opportunities, building culturally-responsive programming with families and tribal partners.” Specifically, the representatives will look at ways the American Indian community can better prepare children for long-term academic success, targeting learning opportunities from birth to 8 years of age.

In education circles, we talk a lot about the way black and Latino students struggle in K-12 classrooms through a combination of cultural circumstances and inequality. The reality is that American Indian K-12 students are the most at-risk of any minority group for either dropping out of high school or never making it to college. The American Indian Fund reports that American Indians who earn a bachelor’s degree represent less than 1 percent of all of these degree earners. It is not shocking then to realize that 28 percent of American Indians lived in poverty compared to 15 percent of the general population, according to 2010 U.S. Census figures. A college education opens doors for a higher quality of life.

The path to college starts long before the application process, of course.

Early childhood education has such an enormous impact on how students fare throughout their school careers. It’s the reason why President Obama has called on more states to implement universal preschool programs and has ushered more funding to Head Start and other early childhood education initiatives. There is a reason why an organization with “college” in the title is going back to early childhood to strengthen the potential of future students in the American Indian community. Better quality early childhood education, and families that are on board with supporting kids through the K-12 process, will lead to an uptick of interest in college degrees and a higher percentage of college graduates too.

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