Native American strategies for student success in postsecondary education

Gail M. Roettele-Bickel
College of Education, University of South Dakota
July, 2005


This study is a qualitative exploration of selected Native Americans who have successfully graduated from mainstream postsecondary institutions. It is an attempt to understand the voices of the participants as they explore the reasons behind their individual success in mainstream education. The research used social constructivist theory as an epistemological model. A conceptual framework derived from the literature review helped to illuminate the collection and interpretation of the data by revealing educational theories in mainstream education that influenced the experiences of the participants and required their development of coping skills. From this, the data analysis revealed a direct relationship to cultural dissonance in the participant responses to Native learning and mainstream education. Four constructs: cultural, social, academic, and personal allowed organization of the data. Data tracking occurred according to the four stages of the Bicultural Identity Formation Model in process linked to the five foremost values of the Siouan culture as expressions of their adaptations. This enabled the researcher to view the participant's strategies of educational success from both an awareness of native cultural capital and their attempts to cope with cultural dissonance in the mainstream setting. Conclusions revealed that these most successful students have the quality of transculturation that allows them to 'walk-between-the worlds' successfully. Intercultural competence enabled the student to participate in both cultures at the same time without the loss of their culture. It affirms that successful students were all able to reach the 'participation' stage of the BiCultural Identity Formation model. This state of being is proven to facilitate student success, learning, and the development of cultural strategies necessary to be successful in mainstream postsecondary education. This study also confirmed the importance of the needs for English language competence and competent mentors within both mainstream and native education opportunities. The more successful students were also keenly aware of the five Siouan values and how the values framed and impacted the participants' views and understandings of educational frameworks.