Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling Psychology & Community Services


Native American college student retention is a major issue for colleges and universities today. Most studies completed up to this point have approached the issue of Native American retention by surveying or interviewing those students who have left school. This study uses a qualitative interview technique to examine the experiences of Native American students who have been successful. Eight senior-level undergraduate students at a north central university were interviewed using a semi-structured qualitative interview protocol.

Interviews were transcribed and analyzed for recurring themes. Five mega themes emerged from the data analysis. 1) The meaning of success. Participants were more likely to define success in terms of meeting personal goals than in monetary terms. 2) Taking active steps to be successful. Participants recognized support services on campus and were active in seeking out this support. Support was sought from Native- based programs and individuals as well as from supportive non-Native individuals. Participants also were active in seeking out financial support from their tribes. Additionally, participants were active in standing for themselves on campus. Several individuals indicated that they had to learn how to speak up in order to get the support they needed—something they had not been taught how to do, growing up on a reservation. 3) Family support, role models, and mentors. Participants all reported having a great deal of support from their families and other significant people in their lives. Participants also had identifiable role models and mentors both at home and on campus. Additionally supportive non-Native individuals were influential for these individuals. 4) Learning experiences. All participants reported having stopped and started college from one to four times prior to their current attempt at college. Individuals used what they learned through their previous experiences in college to be successful in their current attempt. Participants also indicated that they learned a great deal about themselves while attending college. An important part of this was learning how to maintain their identity as Native Americans while reaching out and including themselves in the dominant culture. 5) Connectedness with other Native Americans. It was important for these participants to maintain connection with other Native Americans both at home and on campus. Recommendations for retention and future research are included.