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Cal State San Marcos Offers Guaranteed Admission To Some Tribal School Graduates

Sister Mary Yarger, principal of Sherman Indian High School, Cal State San Ma...

Credit: Cal State San Marcos

Above: Sister Mary Yarger, principal of Sherman Indian High School, Cal State San Marcos President Karen Haynes and Scott Cozart, tribal chairman of the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians, sign memoranda of understanding that establish guaranteed admission to Cal State San Marcos to graduates of the high schools, June 23, 2017.

Cal State San Marcos has the largest American Indian student population in the California State University system, and it is poised to grow.

Cal State San Marcos will soon offer guaranteed admission to American Indian students at two high schools in Riverside County. The students will have to meet the same admissions requirements as other applicants, but will be some of the first in line.

Students at Noli Indian School, a middle and high school on the Soboba Indian Reservation east of San Jacinto, can begin enrolling in the Fall 2018 semester. Students at Sherman Indian High School, an American Indian boarding school in Riverside, can begin enrolling in the Fall 2019 semester.

The partnership comes as members of Congress grapple with an underperforming tribal school system — a task that eluded the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations — this time, under the threat of budget cuts.

“Nearly 75 percent of American Indian students graduating from high school are not prepared to enter into a four-year institution,” said Tishmall Turner, the university’s tribal liaison. “So working with the local schools, we’ve been able to build programs within the schools that are preparing these students for entry into a four-year institution upon graduation.”

Beyond university enrollment, the agreements aim to improve college readiness at the schools. They must set students on a path to finish all of the classes required for admission to a California public university, offer college counseling and campus tours, and funnel potential applicants into extracurriculars like AVID and community service.

RELATED: Cal State San Marcos Sees 20 Percent Jump In Applicants

Rachelle Peterson is chair of the American Indian Student Alliance at Cal State San Marcos. She said she was one of about three American Indians at Hemet High School, and noticed she was often ahead of her peers at nearby tribal schools.

“I’m the first in my family to go, so I think there was a gap,” she said. “Now that I’ve been in college, I see a lot more American Indian kids trying to go to college or wanting to go to college. I think they have more exposure than they did when I was in high school.”

Peterson said she wants to continue, and even boost, the university's tradition of serving American Indian students. In 2005 the school launched a tribal initiative, adding resources for American Indian students, hiring the California State University system’s first and only tribal liaison and giving an annual address to tribal nations.

There is also a campus policy that the school perform a blessing ceremony every time it breaks ground on a new building. The campus is built on Luiseño land, Turner said.

“I came my senior year and it felt like at home,” Peterson said on choosing to attend CSU San Marcos. At 400 and growing, the university has the largest American Indian student population in the CSU system.

It has similar admissions guarantees with 10 school districts in San Diego’s North County and Riverside County. UC San Diego and San Diego State also have admissions agreements with certain schools, typically aimed at increasing the number of first-generation college students they admit.

The guarantees have faced some criticism as straight-A students struggle to get into the college of their choice. California’s universities have been breaking records for both the number of applications received and rejection letters sent.

As for tribal schools, President Trump proposed cutting as much as $64 million from the Bureau of Indian Education, according to the Associated Press. Some in Congress are looking to school choice initiatives to improve options for American Indian students.

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