Empowering Our Future: The Importance of College Education for Hopi Youth

June 10, 2024

As we gather strength from our rich cultural heritage, the Hopi Nation stands at a crucial crossroads. The path we choose will determine the prosperity and resilience of our community for generations to come. One of the most vital steps we can take is to encourage our younger generation to pursue higher education. By doing so, we not only uplift individuals but also fortify the economic and social fabric of our entire community. With the loss of revenue from the Peabody Coal Mine, we need our youth to take full advantage of the healthcare jobs along with developing entrepreneurs to boost businesses for the Hopi Sinom.

The Reality of Unemployment

The Hopi Nation, like many Indigenous communities, faces significant economic challenges. Our unemployment rate is notably higher than the national average, reflecting limited job opportunities within the Hopi Nation. Not only are we lacking a strong economic development program, but land for small business use is limited. This stark reality underscores the urgent need for higher education, which can open doors to more and better employment opportunities.

Source: US Census

The Economic Benefits of Higher Education

Education is a powerful catalyst for economic mobility. Consider the following national statistics on lifetime earnings based on education level:

  • High School Diploma: Individuals with only a high school diploma can expect to earn about $1.3 million over their lifetime.
  • Bachelor’s Degree: This figure rises significantly to approximately $2.3 million for those with a bachelor’s degree. Moreover, men with a bachelor’s degrees will earn approximately $900,000 more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with a bachelor’s degrees will earn $630,000 more than their colleagues who possess only a high school diploma over their lifetime. 
  • Graduate Degree: When it comes to graduate degree earnings, men with a graduate degree earn $1.5 million more in median lifetime earnings than high school graduates. Women with a graduate degree earn $1.1 million more than their colleagues who possess only a high school diploma over their lifetime. 

These numbers highlight a clear economic incentive for our youth to pursue higher education. By obtaining a college degree, Hopi students can access higher-paying jobs, reduce our community’s unemployment rates, and contribute to our economic development.

Source: US Census

Funding Opportunities for Hopi Students

Pursuing higher education may seem daunting, but there are numerous resources available to help Hopi students achieve their academic goals. Many of our students and their parents are unfamiliar with funding and tend to rely solely on the Hopi Tribe for funding, which can be a huge burden due to the criteria set forth by the Hopi Grants and Scholarship Program. Oftentimes our children face culture shock and other barriers that result in failing grades in their freshman year, resulting in discouragement and eventual return to the Hopi Nation. Various organizations provide financial assistance to make college more accessible:

  • Hopi Tribe: The Hopi Tribe offers scholarships and grants to support students pursuing higher education. These funds can help cover tuition, books, and other essential expenses.
  • Indian Health Service (IHS): The IHS provides scholarships and loan repayment programs for students pursuing careers in health professions. This support is crucial for those who wish to give back by improving healthcare within our community.
  • American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC): The AIGC offers a range of scholarships for undergraduate and graduate students. These funds are designed to support Native American students in achieving their educational aspirations.
  • Private Scholarships: Numerous private organizations and foundations offer scholarships specifically for Indigenous students. These opportunities can significantly reduce the financial burden of college education.
  • Student Loan(s): This is one of the last resorts and we do not recommend this route unless you are entering a field that will enable loan forgiveness (i.e. IHS Loan Repayment, Public Service Loan Forgiveness).
  • Parent Plus Loan(s): Again, this is not recommended by our staff but can be used as a bridge if funding from the Hopi Grants and Scholarship Program denies funding due to grades during the first year of college.

Beyond Economic Gains: Cultural Preservation

Higher education is not solely about financial gain. It also plays a critical role in cultural preservation, especially when our students return home to work for local employers such as the Hopi Health Care Center and the Hopi High School. Colleges and universities offer programs in Indigenous studies, anthropology, and other fields that empower Hopi students to become leaders in preserving and promoting our cultural heritage. Educated individuals can return to our community with knowledge and skills to develop culturally relevant educational programs and initiatives, ensuring our traditions and values are passed on to future generations.

Some notable Hopi Scholars who have contributed to the Cultural Preservation of Hopi are:

  • Stewart Koyiyumptewa – Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Arizona
  • Micah Loma’omvaya – Bachelor of Arts degree in Anthropology from the University of Arizona
  • Ferrell Secakuku – Master of Science degree in Anthropology from Northern Arizona University

Overcoming Barriers

While the benefits of higher education are clear, many Hopi students face barriers such as financial constraints, limited access to quality primary and secondary education, and the cultural adjustment of moving away from home. However, with the available funding and support programs, these obstacles can be overcome. It is crucial for students and their families to seek out these resources and remain committed to their educational journey and to be able to overcome failing grades with the ability to find alternate funding in order to make up courses and get back into good academic standing.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The future of the Hopi Nation is in the hands of our youth. By prioritizing higher education, we can empower the next generation to build a stronger, more prosperous community. We must encourage our young people to pursue their educational goals, support them in overcoming barriers, and celebrate their successes as they pave the way for a brighter future for all Hopi.

Together, we can transform the challenges we face into opportunities for growth and prosperity, ensuring that the Hopi Nation remains resilient, vibrant, and culturally rich for generations to come. Let us stand united in our commitment to education and the empowerment of our youth.