Document Type

Dissertation - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department / School

Sociology and Rural Studies

First Advisor

Mary Emery


Educational attainment and success have often been linked to an increase in opportunities in life and when viewed from the lens of lifelong earnings, the greater an individual’s educational attainment, the greater the lifelong earnings. As a population, Native Americans have the highest poverty rate of all racial categories in the United States at 26.2% (Economic Policy Institute 2016). When looking at the connection between education and poverty, it is vital to note that only 14.1% of Native Americans over the age of 25 have a bachelor’s degree or above (US Census 2015). This lack of educational attainment falls well below the general population and the research in the area of attempting to understand the factors that affect Native American educational attainment is still fairly light in volume when compared to other areas of educational study. This study aims to add to the bank of information regarding Native Americans and their journeys and experiences in higher education. The study is exploratory as capabilities, barriers, and motivating factors within higher education for Native American students will be identified from the perspective of the student. Capabilities approach is utilized to provide a framework in which research participants can share their experiences in higher education, the barriers that have affected them, and the motivating factors that have kept them progressing in higher education; and all through the perceptions of the students and a focus on local, contextual knowledge. The study will utilize the qualitative methods of a focus group and semistructured interviews to capture the educational journeys of the research participants and their thoughts on higher education. Additionally, the study will use content analysis to examine the programming, financial aid, and transferability for students from Sisseton Wahpeton College to universities and colleges in the area to highlight educational capabilities of the research participants. Analysis of the data compiled indicates that there are several barriers and motivating factors that align with findings from previous studies, but the analysis also notes some differences as well. The benefits of capabilities approach are highlighted in the findings as the similarities and differences identified in the research population can add to the depth of understanding in this area, while at the same time, recognizing the diversity of populations of Native Americans and the importance of local, contextual knowledge in this area of study.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Indians of North America -- Education (Higher)
Indian college students.
Indian universities and colleges.
Capabilities approach (Social sciences)
Academic achievement.



Number of Pages



South Dakota State University



Rights Statement

In Copyright