The Haudenosaunee college experience: A complex path to degree completion

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Vincent Tinto


Haudenosaunee, College experience, Degree completion, Native Americans

Subject Categories

Education | Educational Administration and Supervision | Higher Education Administration | Race and Ethnicity | Social and Behavioral Sciences | Sociology


Nationally, Native Americans make up only 1 percent of the total college student population and are the least likely to graduate from college. However, my causal observations in my own Native community seemed to indicate that Native people were obtaining degrees. Since statistics painted such a bleak picture, I wondered if there were more to the story of our college experience than statistics could tell.

This study is a qualitative description of how 12 Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy) college graduates constructed pathways to degree completion. Black Feminist Thought (Collins, 2000) provided the support for the words of the participants in this study.

The parents of two participants were avid readers, and another family did not watch television as a main activity. Most of the participants came from first-generation college, working class families. Unfortunately, high school guidance did not play a role in steering students toward college. Three of the participants in the study had GEDs. Parents expected that their children graduate from high school and try college. Parents embarked in their own educational activities. Ten participants attended a community college or vocational institution before transferring to a four-year institution.

The pathways to degree completion were complex due to their dedication to culture and family. The participants found ways to obtain a college education and maintain their cultural integrity even though it meant more work and more effort. College became an external demand on their lives. Participants in this study did not "break away" from communities of their past. They were, however, academically engaged. Their greatest support during college was their family. Participants embarked in a double curriculum: their academic program and their culture. Participants resembled adult returning students even when they were traditionally aged and living on campus. The male students had richer experiences than the women due to mentoring. Personal strengths were alcohol recovery, the drive to finish the degree, and exceptional study habits.

Twelve participants is not a sufficient number to generalize to the general Haudenosaunee population, but this study provides data where none existed before.


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