Education | National

Obama administration hails increase in Indian student graduation rates






First Lady Michelle Obama watches as a dance and drum procession leads the graduates to their seats for the Santa Fe Indian School high school commencement ceremony in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on May 26, 2016. Photo by Chuck Kennedy / White House

More and more Native American students are finishing high school, the Obama administration announced on Monday, but their graduation rates continue to fall behind all of their counterparts.

According to the White House, 71.6 percent of American Indians and Alaska Natives graduated in the 2014-2015 academic year. That represents a significant improvement from just a few years ago, when only 65 percent of Native students finished high school in 2010-2011.

"I believe that if you’re going to be able to do whatever you want to do in your lives –- if you want to become a teacher, or a doctor, or start a business, or develop the next great app, or be president -- then you’ve got to have great education," President Barack Obama said at a high school in the nation's capital on Monday morning.

But the data released by the White House shows that Native student graduation rates fall behind those seen among Asian (90.2), White (87.6), Hispanic (77.8) and African-American (74.6) students. They are also far behind the national average of 83.2 percent.

The disparity was highlighted in the White House's 2014 Native youth report and it's one of the reasons why S.246, the Alyce Spotted Bear and Walter Soboleff Commission on Native Children Act, is seen as a key step in understanding why Native youth are falling behind. Obama is moving quickly to implement the new panel, which will study ways to improve services for young tribal citizens.

"By creating the Commission on Native Children, we will continue to work for Native American children to break down the barriers that stand in their way," Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-North Dakota), the sponsor of the new law, said on Friday.

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