The two grants aim to increase graduation rates for Native American students and grow the number of Native American nurses working at Indian Health Service facilities

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FARMINGTON — San Juan College has been awarded two grants worth more than $2 million to help Native American students complete their degrees and provide scholarships for students in the nursing program.

The college was awarded a five-year grant from the U.S. Department of Education that is worth about $1.73 million, according to John Boggs, the college’s senior director of the Student Success Center.

It was part of $104 million in grants awarded to 104 higher education institutions nationwide that serve Asian American, Pacific Islander, Hispanic, Native American and low-income students, according to a Department of Education press release.

The goal of the grant is to remove obstacles Native American students face in completing their educations and to increase their graduation rates so they can more quickly enter the workforce or enroll in a four-year institution, Boggs said in an email.

The grant will serve a college that has one of the nation’s highest graduation rates for Native American students.

The Daily Times reported that San Juan College has 169 Native American students who earned associate degrees in the 2012-2013 school year, making it second in the nation, according to Community College Week.

The grant funding will allow for the implementation of a new Pathway Coaching program, which will include hiring a grant project director and two coaches.

The coaches will meet regularly with Native American students to identify academic or personal issues that might affect their grades. If an issue is identified, the coaches can refer students to an on-campus or community resource.

"The one-on-one coach-client relationship is important to identify problems before they impede a student’s academic progress, but more importantly to improve the student’s current life circumstances," Boggs said in an email.

The college will also expand its use of instructors to lead study sessions and create academic advising for at-risk students. Further, a Native American new student orientation program will be created.

The University of New Mexico, along with San Juan College, were also awarded grants from the Indian Health Service to increase the number of Native American nurses working at IHS facilities.

The three-year grants provide UNM about $320,000 and San Juan College about $400,000, according to officials from both colleges.

Nisa Bruce, director of San Juan College’s nursing program, said the grant will provide a full scholarship that covers the cost of books, fees and a monthly $1,000 stipend, for nursing students. A learning support faculty member will also be hired for the program.

Those who accept the scholarship will be required to work at an IHS facility after graduation.

"I think it’s really, really gratifying," Bruce said about being selected for the grant. "I’m really happy to be a part of this."

UNM Associate Professor Judy Liesveld said the university is looking at recruiting students from the Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute in Albuquerque.

"We’re really interested in having a diverse pool of nursing graduates that can be prepared to work in rural New Mexico, and many rural areas of the state have Native American populations," she said.

The program is still in the early stages, but Bruce believes San Juan College will award four to six scholarships in the spring.

Bruce said scholarships will also be awarded to students currently in the nursing program to improve retention, explaining many students struggle with the curriculum.

"That’s the reason we are looking at helping and supporting (them), so we can keep them," Bruce said.

Joshua Kellogg covers education for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4627.

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