Increasing the Numbers: Effective Recruitment of Native American Law Students

By:      Kiyana Davis Kiel | Attorney | kiyanakiel@gmail.com

Editor’s Note:  With the arrival of our Native American Interns Kele Bigknife (Michigan Law) and Heather Torres (UCLA Law), I asked a colleague at the University of San Diego how law schools were doing in attracting and keeping Native American law students.  Was the Native American Bar increasing?  I learned that law schools are still struggling to attract Native American law students.  Guest blogger Kiyana Kiel, Esq., USD School of Law Director, Academic Success & Bar Programs, provides insight into this problem, and hope for improvement.

Diversity is a hot topic in legal education, specifically, the lack of diversity at American law schools. Though law school admissions professionals strive to build diverse student bodies, the recruitment (and retention) of minority candidates remains stagnant. My experience on admissions committees and anecdotal evidence from other law school admission professionals identifies a primary problem: there are not enough minority candidates.

The number of minority law school applicants is disproportionally small compared to that of their majority (Caucasian) counterparts. The diversity numbers are even more reduced when you look at Native American. According to fall 2015 data from the Law School Admissions Council (LSAC), of the 54,500 applicants for law school admission, only 1,230 were identified as Native American.  Of those, only 840 were admitted to law school (2% of the total applicant pool); with a 68% acceptance rate compared to the 85% acceptance rate of Caucasian applicants.

When confronted with these numbers, the questions for admissions professionals become: (1) what causes the discrepancies in the number of applicants and the acceptance rates between Caucasian and Native American candidates? and (2) what can be done to remedy the cause(s) of it? Research suggests there are many—often interconnected—causes, including:

  • Limited access to competitive, college-preparatory education along the K-12 continuum;
  • Socio-economic background;
  • Status as a first generation college and graduate applicant/student;
  • Size of the Native American applicant pool;
  • Geographic proximity to law schools of interest; and
  • Law school course and program offerings of interest to Native American applicants.

We have found the challenge starts very early.  The greatest impact on the number of Native American candidates and law school admission is limited access to competitive, college-preparatory education along the K-12 continuum. A below average K-12 education creates a poor foundation for all educational pursuits that follow, causing a ripple effect that extends to college and graduate school prospects (or lack thereof).  Limited access to college-preparatory education leads to reduced admission to college, which in turn reduces law school admission. In order to reverse this outcome, it is imperative to provide access to opportunities by bridging the gaps that directly affect Native American students in the education pipeline.

Fortunately, there are programs bridging these education-access gaps.  College Horizons is a non-profit organization which focuses exclusively on advising Native American students regarding college and graduate admissions.  College Horizons cites that the high school graduation rate for Native American students is just 51%. Of those high school graduates, only 5% proceed directly to four-year colleges and, of those, only 10% graduate within four years.  Relative to other minorities and to the general US school-age population, Native American school children are at or near the greatest risks of receiving poor education and underperforming at the elementary and secondary levels.

College Horizons reports that of the 2,800 College Horizons’ participants, 99% are admitted to college, 95% attend a four-year institution, and 85% graduate within four to five years.  This is accomplished by partnerships with the Office of Admissions at colleges and universities with multicultural-diversity outreach initiatives to provide individualized college admission advising.

The UCLA Law Fellows Program (“Law Fellows”) is another program bridging the education-access gap for students “whose experiences reflect limited familial exposure to post-collegiate education, career opportunities, mentoring, and social support systems. Additional consideration is given to applicants who have overcome economic and/or educational hardships and challenges, or have come from, or demonstrated leadership experience in, economically or educationally underserved communities.”  This program includes, but is not limited to, Native American students.  Law Fellows bridges the law school-access gap by providing:

  • Professional-level instruction of undergraduate students by law school faculty;
  • A personalized Juris Doctor (law school) Action Plan;
  • Mentoring by current UCLA law students;
  • A full scholarship for one LSAT preparation course;
  • Presentations by practicing attorneys and leaders in the law community;
  • Admissions, financial aid, and LSAT workshops;
  • Legal research primer by law library staff; and
  • Follow-up activities and counseling until law school matriculation.

As an alumnus of Law Fellows, I can attest to the effectiveness of its programs and services. Prior to completing the LSAT preparation course provided through Law Fellows, I scored in the top 50th percentile of test-takers; following the preparation course, I scored in the top 15% of test-takers. This score difference, coupled with my undergraduate GPA, made me a competitive applicant to top 20 law schools—something that would not have been possible without the assistance provided by Law Fellows.

What Can Law Schools Do?

Law schools can make targeted efforts to support and nurture Native American students by creating and participating in strategic partnerships with:

  • K-12 schools with high Native American student populations;
  • Local colleges and universities;
  • Tribal governments; and
  • Organizations serving Native American populations

To mimic programs like College Horizons and Law Fellows in their geographic area. Locally, the American Indian Recruitment Programs (AIR) provides such an opportunity for K-12 Native American students.  AIR promotes higher education and success in academics in the American Indian community by providing supplemental educational instruction through tutoring, mentoring, and even college-level course work for high school students.  AIR has summer and school-year programs that work with partnerships developed with the UCLA, University of San Diego, UCSD, California State University San Marcos, and Palomar and Cuyamaca Community Colleges.

These programs could be volunteer and support initiatives, and do not necessarily need to be funded or organized exclusively by law schools because many colleges and universities have diversity offices and associated diversity initiatives.  The key is developing partnerships and providing support and encouragement starting early in the education process, and continue that support into college and law school.  To improve recruitment of Native American students at the law school level, it is necessary to increase the number of Native American applicants.  By creating and participating in strategic partnerships that bridge the education-access gaps at all levels, law schools position themselves to increase the Native American applicant pool and acceptance rates; thereby beginning to solve the problem of supplying more Native American law school candidates.

Kiyana Kiel received her JD from Boalt Hall – UC Berkeley School of Law and has spent her career working in public law, real estate law and educational pipeline matters.  She currently is the Director of Academic Success and Bar Programs at the University of San Diego School of Law.

Ted Griswold

Ted is head of the Native American Law practice group and primary editor for the Blogging Circle. Connect with Ted at ted.griswold@procopio.com and 619.515.3277.

 

The views, opinions and positions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Procopio, Cory, Hargreaves & Savitch LLP.