High school graduation rates are rising on both the Pascua Yaqui and Tohono O’odham reservations, and administrators say more kids are applying to college.
Between 2000 and 2011, high school graduation rates for Pascua Yaqui rose from 41 to 66 percent, and on the Tohono O’odham reservation, they grew from 62 to 68 percent in the same period, U.S. Census Bureau data say. During the same time, high school attainment in Pima County increased from 83 to 87 percent. (The 2011 figures are five-year averages from 2007 to 2011.)
Recent Baboquivari High School graduate Yvonne Ventura, 18, is one success story. Ventura, who played volleyball and softball and was a cheerleader in high school, says her mother always pushed her to go to college. She is taking two summer courses at Tohono O’odham Community College this summer to prepare for her first year at Northern Arizona University.
“It’s a chance for me to be on my own,” Ventura says. “It’s kind of hard nowadays to find jobs if you don’t have a degree. ... I know I want to come back and help my nation.”
Tohono O’odham Community College is expanding academic options for its 250 students, including a new home-health-care-provider certificate program. Administrators also have plans to establish a certified-nursing-assistant program and a business incubator for budding entrepreneurs throughout the reservation, says James Vander Hooven, community college president.
But lack of resources — including adequate transportation to campus — is the No. 1 obstacle for students, he says.
“We are getting students who are extremely motivated,” he says. But when faced with economic and transportation barriers, “it’s just overwhelming.”
The community college has added a dedicated retention coordinator and other support staff to help students overcome these challenges, he says.
“We’re really working on getting all staff to work across divisions. We’re taking a holistic approach to serving the students’ needs,” he says.