“You don’t have to go through this alone.”
With that simple statement, Torey Archuleta, a Fort Lewis College freshman majoring in elementary education, explained the greatest benefit she had received from the American Indian Measurable Success Initiative.
AIMS is a broad partnership among tribes, school districts and state programs and agencies that strives to “dramatically increase college readiness, attainment and success of Native American students in higher education programs.”
Archuleta, who would be the first in her family to graduate from college, said: “Ask for help. You don’t have to face it alone. Ask: How do I do this? How do I get through this? Just ask for help.”
Being the first in her family to attend college, Archuleta said she began her college career feeling isolated without anyone to reach out to, but she credited the constant attention she received from counselors and educators with the AIMS program for helping her through her first-year struggles.
In addition, she attributed a transfer from the University of New Mexico, and its large impersonal campus, to FLC, and its ability to offer more personal and immediate services to students, with improving her college career.
One unanticipated problem the program encountered in increasing Native American matriculation was described as “summer melt,” which is the failure of a student to enroll in college after being accepted upon graduation from high school.
In 2016-17, AIMS administrators noticed 46 Native American students from high schools in Southwest Colorado had been accepted to college, but only 26 actually enrolled in a college. The next year, counselors reached out to Native American students who had been accepted to college to increase the enrollment rate.
In addition, AIMS has been able to increase the number of local Native American high school students taking advanced-placement classes or concurrent college enrollment classes from three in 2015-16 to 75 in 2018-19.
AIMS held a forum Monday in the Student Union at FLC to present some of its work and recognize numerous collaborators who helped the program for the past two years.
Reaching out to the Native American community was the biggest reason the program was able to make a difference and increase Native American students’ entry into college, said Robert Aspen, an academic adviser at Durango High School and a member of the AIMS team.
“After all the bullet points,” he said, “the big part of this success is developing individual relationships and trust with students, families and tribes.”
The program was funded for two years by a $300,000 grant from the Colorado Department of Higher Education and $100,000 from a matching grant from the Colorado Education Initiative. In addition, Richard Ballantine, the chairman of the board of Ballantine Communications Inc., which owns The Durango Herald, provided a private donation to help pay for counselors to reduce the summer melt issue.
Now, Mike Hudson, a member of the board of directors of the Community Foundation Serving Southwest Colorado, said the organization is looking for community donations from Southwest Colorado in an effort to continue the program.
“We want to keep the program going in perpetuity, and we will continue to seek federal, state and national funding, but we’d like to receive funding from the region as well. We want Southwest Colorado to have some skin in the game,” he said.