American Indians, Indian Americans, and Access to College Education
Among the underprivileged in America are American Indians, the indigenous people whose land we inhabit. Among those with privilege are Indian Americans, Americans who have immigrated from India. The latter were not always privileged. What has made the newer arrivals successful, while the indigenous remain mired at the bottom of the socioeconomic scale?
American Indian and Indian American citizens each make up only between one and two percent of the American population, yet they both can impact American politics as they showed in the 2020 Presidential election. In Arizona, where the two Presidential candidates were separated by a slim margin, Navajo Indians overwhelmingly preferred the winning candidate. In Georgia, Indian Americans along with other Asian Americans of Atlanta appear to have sided with the winning candidate to provide a slim margin.
Indian Americans are among the wealthiest subpopulation in America, measured in terms of average income — which is well more than the American average and two and a half times that of the American Indian average. Their high income is in part due to their high educational attainment. Nearly 70% of Indian Americans have a bachelor’s degree and more than a half of those have a higher degree. Under 10% of American Indians have a college degree.
There is no secret sauce to the educational and financial successes of Indian Americans. Undoubtedly, societal obstacles were many for those who arrived early, such as the mother of Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris, who arrived in the 1960’s or earlier. Many who immigrate like her to America from India have gone through a rigorous selection process in the higher education system from a nation of a billion people and are often high achievers. Their ability to communicate freely in English, having learnt it as a second language at their schools in India advantages them compared to immigrants of many other nationalities. So it is not surprising this select group and their children are successful in America.
American Indians, unlike their Indian American counterparts, have few successful role models. Opportunities for educational attainment at Indian reservations, while have improved, are still nowhere near par with the rest of the country. Their plight isn’t unlike that of indigenous peoples displaced across the world — Aboriginals in Australia or Scheduled Tribes in India, and their stigmatization isn’t unlike that of Black Americans. Underprivileged in the society historically, the indigenous can use one element of the secret sauce that makes Indian Americans successful: Access to college education.
All Americans, especially Indian Americans, who understand the value of college education should aim to make that a public and private priority to benefit the indigenous. One of our favorite Thanksgiving Day charities is the American Indian College Fund that serves students at over thirty Tribal Colleges and Universities, including Diné College pictured here. Maybe it is a fund to you will consider for your donation plans in this holiday season.