American Indian College Fund offers myriad higher education resources |

American Indian College Fund offers myriad higher education resources

By Cassandra Walker | First Nation's Focus
Robin Maxkii is an American Indian College Fund alumna, student ambassador and recent graduate of Salish Kootenai College in Montana.
Photo: American Indian College Fund
EDITOR’S NOTE: With graduation season upon us, First Nation’s Focus is dedicating time to cover stories about higher education opportunities for Native youth across Nevada, the West and all of America. This month, we feature the American Indian College Fund. Look to the June-July print edition of First Nation's Focus — and on our website in June — for an in-depth look at opportunities and challenges when it comes to earning a college degree.

RENO, Nev. — Only 14 percent of Native Americans have a bachelor’s degree — a statistic propelling the American Indian College Fund to support students before and during college to reach academic success in higher education.

The nonprofit fund is designed to create programming for students to succeed; it’s not enough just to have the finances to attend school, successful students also have resources for studying and financial assistance.

Since 1989, the American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native student access to higher education.

Millions in scholarships

In the 2016-17 academic year, the fund provided 6,548 scholarships, offering a total of $7.6 million in student financial aid, and nearly $5.9 million in establishing higher education programming in Native communities.

“A lot of time, people don’t know what resources are even out there and available to them,” Dina Horwedel, director of public education with the American Indian College Fund, told First Nation’s Focus. “When Native people leave reservations for mainstream institutions they feel in many ways that they don’t feel the same. It’s hard to navigate, culturally.”

Next year marks three decades of support that the fund has provided to American Indian students.

The way it works, AICF representatives initiate programming in high schools to serve Native communities and coach students by mentoring them and helping them take the proper coursework, improve scholastic skills and usher them on the path of higher education.

“If you don’t have that kind of encouragement from parents or authority figures to attend college after high school, the chances are that you wouldn’t consider or have that option,” Horwedel said.

It’s not just about money

One of the key identifiable factors in low Native student attendance numbers is the seemingly insurmountable debt that goes hand-in-hand with higher education.

Luckily, officials with the college fund specialize in matching students with various scholarships based on their scholastic, extra-curricular and family history.

All students need to do is apply online through the college fund website for help.

Horwedel said she is interviewing many students for an ambassador-training program to share their stories with the greater public on their personal journey, how they got to college and why it was important.

“We always talk about the economic benefits, but it’s a lot more than that for Native students to go to college,” she said. “They’re interconnected, making sure that you have a voice and your voice is heard about your community and the things that impact your community; that’s more important today than ever.

“Native people often aren’t at the table when decisions are made regarding education or the environmental impacts to their community — make sure you have input, you’re seen and your voice is heard.”

As for the 14 percent number, the American Indian College Fund is dedicated to providing resources for more Native students to graduate from college in order to create a sustainable community and have developed leadership among tribal communities.

Visit for more information about the fund.

Cassandra Walker is a special assignments reporter for Sierra Nevada Media Group and a regular contributor to First Nation’s Focus. She can be reached at