When Saskatchewan Polytechnic developed its Aboriginal Student Achievement Plan in 2008, the institution set out ambitious goals for increasing Aboriginal student success. Today, provost and vice-president Dr. Anne Neufeld feels confident saying that the polytechnic is now a national leader in this area – while acknowledging that there is always more to do to eliminate barriers and support students.
From its campuses in Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, Regina and Saskatoon, the polytechnic provides post-secondary education and skills training to more Aboriginal students than any other post-secondary institution in the province. In 2014-15, there were 3,500 Aboriginal students enrolled in Sask Polytech programs, representing just over 18 per cent of the student population.
That number has stayed consistent over the past few years, says Dr. Neufeld, reflecting the institution’s success when it comes to recruiting Aboriginal students. What has changed are the numbers relating to student retention and graduation.
In 2014-15 the retention rate of Aboriginal students in multi-year programs increased 13 per cent
over the previous year.
There has also been an increase in the number of Aboriginal students finding employment in a related field after graduation, rising from 82 per cent in 2011-12 to 88 per cent in 2014-15.
Importantly, the differential between the graduate employment rate of Aboriginal students and the student population as a whole is shrinking: in 2012-2013, Aboriginal students lagged their peers by 12 percentage points, but in 2014-15, that had shrunk to six percentage points.
These successes are the result of a combined effort on the part of Saskatchewan Polytechnic’s leaders to examine every aspect of the school and seek ways to make it more inclusive.
Far-reaching initiatives have included establishing an Aboriginal Student Achievement Plan Steering Committee, creating welcoming environments for Elders and students at Aboriginal Activity Centres, incorporating pipe and smudging ceremonies, hiring a director of Aboriginal strategy, raising the prominence of Aboriginal student advisors on campus and doubling the emergency bursary fund.
Next up on Dr. Neufeld’s action list is implementing a new academic model that “indigenizes the curriculum.” This will look different from program to program, but the ultimate goal is to ensure that all students are more culturally aware and sensitive to Aboriginal and Metis culture and traditions in the province.
She says that there are still many barriers specific to Aboriginal students, and she hopes that by collecting even more granular data the polytechnic will be in an even better position to target its support and interventions.
“It’s getting the whole institute behind the students – whether it’s an academic issue where we can offer additional support or if it has to do with childcare, transportation or housing. We want to help minimize these and other barriers that prevent our students from achieving their goals.”
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