Montana State University

MSU named one of the nation’s top institutions for awarding degrees to Native American students

October 9, 2014 -- MSU News Service

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A national diversity publication has named Montana State University one of the nation’s top 100 institutions for awarding degrees to Native American students.

MSU shared the 96th spot for the number of undergraduate degrees awarded to Native American students, while it shared the 91st spot for the number of graduate degrees awarded to Native American students. For master’s degrees awarded to Native American students, MSU was ranked 63rd.

The rankings are from Diverse Issues in Higher Education, a national news magazine devoted to matters of access and equity for all in higher education. The publication noted that at the undergraduate level, MSU saw growth between 2012 and 2013 in degrees awarded to Native American and multi-racial students in family and consumer sciences, nursing, business and health professions majors. According to the university’s Office of Planning and Analysis, during the last academic year, 95 students who identified themselves as Native American/Alaska Native received undergraduate and graduate degrees from MSU.

“MSU is committed to increasing access to higher education and ensuring opportunities for underrepresented students,” said Martha Potvin, MSU provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We are very pleased to be recognized for the success we’ve had in supporting Native American students in earning degrees.”

The university’s long history of supporting Native American students dates back to at least 1967, when the first Native American student adviser was hired, according to Walter Fleming, head of MSU’s Department of Native American Studies, or NAS. In 1974, the position became part of NAS. Since then the Office of American Indian and Alaska Native Student Success in NAS has provided important services to Native students, such as tutoring and short-term loan assistance, Fleming said.

“It’s also important to note that the American Indian Council – the Native student organization on campus – provides a sense of belonging and brings to campus and the Bozeman community cultural enrichment by sponsoring, along with Native American Studies, the annual Pow Wow,” Fleming said.

MSU also has a number of programs that are designed to help Native American and other minority students succeed. Among them are the university’s Caring For Our Own Program, or CO-OP, which supports Native American and Alaska Native students pursuing nursing degrees at MSU; I LEAD, which recruits, educates, certifies and places American Indian educators into administrative positions in schools with high populations of Native American students; the Early Childhood Education Distance Partnership Program, which helps Head Start teachers and early childhood educators complete bachelor’s degrees in early childhood education; the McNair Scholars Program, which supports the success of students whose families have not traditionally participated in post-secondary education; the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, whose mission is to increase the representation of American Indian and Alaskan Natives in engineering, science and other related technology disciplines; and EMPower, or the Engineering Minority Program, which encourages the involvement of women and minorities in engineering.

A number of the university’s Native American students have been recognized in recent months for outstanding individual accomplishments, including Emery Three Irons, who in April won the prestigious Udall Scholarship in the Tribal Public Policy category. Three Irons, who is a member of the Crow Nation, or Apsaalooké, is working on a project to use geographic information systems, or GIS, mapping technology to chart where on the Crow Indian Reservation tribal members continue to show fluency in their native language. He is also working on assignments to clarify Crow political districts, subdivisions, historic sites and infrastructure.

Also in April, MSU student Michael Fast Buffalo Horse, who is a member of the Blackfeet Nation, was one of 60 students from across the country selected to present his research on Capitol Hill as part of its annual “Posters on the Hill” celebration. His research was on the revitalization of tribal languages.

The Diverse Issues in Higher Education rankings are just one way MSU has been recognized in recent weeks for its commitment to diversity. In September, MSU was one of only 83 institutions from across the nation – and the only university in Montana – to receive the 2014 Higher Education Excellence in Diversity, or HEED, award from INSIGHT Into Diversity magazine. Among other measures, MSU was selected based on the university’s initiatives that promote diversity and inclusion, as well as its work to embrace a broad definition of diversity on campus, including diversity by gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, veteran status and disability status.

Diverse Issues in Higher Education annually releases a list of the Top 100 minority degree producers. Now in their fifth year, the rankings use the most recent available data from the U.S. Department of Education to identify higher education institutions from around the country that confer the most degrees to minority students each year. For more information about the rankings and methodology, visit

Contact: Tracy Ellig, (406) 994-5607 or