For every 10 freshmen who enroll at Haskell Indian Nations University seeking a bachelor’s degree, fewer than one ends up leaving campus with a diploma.
That’s according to the university’s own information reported to the U.S. Department of Education, a database studied by a magazine in search of “college dropout factories.”
Haskell, which is run by the federal government for American Indians, recorded a graduation rate of 9 percent — low enough to place in a tie for 13th on Washington Monthly’s list of 50 four-year public and private not-for-profit colleges with the lowest graduation rates.
“Do we want to do better? Of course,” said Venida Chenault, Haskell’s vice president for academic affairs. “Are we going to make a commitment to that? Of course.”
Southern University at New Orleans and Concordia College at Moorhead, Minn., tied for the lowest rate, at 5 percent. Oglala Lakota College, a tribal college in South Dakota, ranked No. 17 at 11 percent.
Others that were not on the magazine’s list but are included in the government’s database, expressed as percentage of freshmen who enroll and then receive a bachelor’s degree within six years:
• Kansas University, 60 percent.
• Baker University, 59 percent.
• Kansas State University, 58 percent
• University of Missouri, 69 percent.
Haskell’s ranking caught the eye of U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., who for nearly a year has been pressuring the Obama administration to address academic and leadership issues at Haskell.
“It is disappointing to see Haskell high on this list,” Roberts said Tuesday. “I remain concerned about the lack of leadership at Haskell and am committed to working with the Bureaus of Indian Affairs and Education to ensure Haskell students are getting the quality education they deserve.”
Haskell officials note that their school’s overall graduation rate — one that covers all full-time, first-time students seeking certificates or undergraduate degrees — is 26 percent, surpassing the mean of 15 percent posted by tribal colleges and universities overall.
And most students at Haskell are seeking associate degrees, not bachelor’s degrees, Chenault said. During the previous four years, 67 percent of Haskell students were enrolled in such two-year degree programs, compared with 33 percent for four-year degrees.
Haskell often gets compared with larger colleges and universities that focus their resources on four-year and advanced degrees, she said. Haskell established its first bachelor’s degree program in 1998.
“We’re in an in-between category,” Chenault said.
Even so, she said, Haskell remains committed to boosting graduation rates for its students, all of whom come from federally recognized American Indian tribes and “address a critical shortage of American Indian professionals in tribal communities.
“Every May, you typically see 150 students walking across the stage, having completed their bachelor’s or associate degrees. That’s not insignificant. That’s going to make a big difference for tribes.”
Success Center to open
This year, new and returning students soon will have a new resource to help guide their way through campus academia. In October, Haskell is planning a grand opening for its new on-campus Haskell Success Center, which will provide centralized advising, retention, outreach and career-placement services.
The goal is to improve student engagement, she said.
Haskell has about 1,000 students this semester, representing about 150 tribes. Students do not pay tuition, and instead pay fees by semester: $215 if living on campus, or $110 for those living off.
The university’s annual budget is about $14.2 million.
Haskell’s top administrator is Chris Redman, an education specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs who also serves as acting president. Still listed as Haskell’s president is Linda Warner, who remains a federal employee but has not been on campus for nearly a year, after being reassigned by bureau officials in Washington, D.C., to another federal school for American Indians in New Mexico, and later to a regional bureau office in Oklahoma City.
Earlier this year, bureau officials said that a decision about Haskell’s president would be made sometime after Keith Moore started work as bureau director. Moore started June 1, and no decision has been announced.
Sen. Roberts started voicing concerns last year about leadership issues at Haskell, and has met personally with a former Senate colleague, Ken Salazar, who now is U.S. secretary of the interior — the department that oversees the Bureau of Indian Affairs and, therefore, Haskell.
In March, Roberts and other members of Kansas’ congressional delegation had said they were seeking answers about alleged “mismanagement of personnel,” “ethics violations” and other “alarming reports” at the campus.
The search continues, and Roberts noted Tuesday that Haskell’s latest ranking was something to follow.
“Obviously this report speaks to many of the concerns I have raised with Secretary Salazar and I appreciate the attention he is giving to this matter,” Roberts said.