ABE Program Featured on MPR

Excerpts and images from Minnesota Public Radio.
Brandt Williams, Reporting
Caroline Yang, Photographs

High school dropouts try to get back in the game

For many, GED certificates are the ticket into the workforce or higher education that they didn’t punch in high school. …Minnesota ranks near the bottom of states when it comes to the on-time graduation rates for students of color.

Most high school dropouts in the state are white, reflecting the makeup of the state’s student population, but the trends among students of color are especially troubling when compared to their peers throughout the nation. By one measure, they didn’t get much help. MPR News found Minnesota ranks dead last in the portion of education money that schools spend on counselors and other support staff who can intervene in the lives of failing students.


Young people likely to drop out often show signs of trouble before reaching high school, said researcher Robert Balfanz, a leading scholar on graduation rates at Johns Hopkins University.

They might miss school or get in trouble in class or fail a course, he said. “Initially maybe it’s one course, and soon it’s a couple courses.”

Balfanz said school staff should measure what he calls the ABCs: attendance, behavior and course failure. Schools can improve graduation rates by focusing on freshmen whose middle school records raise red flags in these areas, he said.

And while students of color, who are more likely to be poor, have a weaker record of graduating on time than white students, Balfanz said focusing only on race and poverty is not the answer.

The bottom line, he said, is that all students need to earn enough credits to graduate.

“And to earn credits, you have to pass your classes,” Balfanz said. “And to pass your classes you have to be there. And you have to get your work done. And by focusing on those mechanisms we’re focusing on the mechanisms that most directly impact whether you graduate or not.”

…In 2009, researchers at Northeastern University in Boston dropped this statistical bombshell: 16- to 24-year-old male dropouts were getting locked up at a rate 63 times higher than the rate for young men with college degrees. The study also found that, on any given day, nearly a quarter of all young black male high school dropouts in that same age group are in jails, prisons or juvenile detention facilities. That is more than three times the rate for Asian, Hispanic and white dropouts.


That’s expensive. A 2013 report from the Council on Black Minnesotans found that state taxpayers spend more than $48,000 per prison inmate per year, just less than a year of tuition at Carleton College, the highest tuition in the state.

Alyssa’s Story


Alyssa Graves’ path to the GED program at the American Indian Opportunities Industrialization Center in Minneapolis started at Roosevelt High School and wound through several years of heroin use, school-hopping and homelessness.

The classes at Roosevelt felt too big to Graves. The school had counselors available, but Graves said she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to concentrate on school. She soon fell behind. “It was just too much with the big classrooms,” she said. “Once you missed one class, you fall behind. That’s pretty much where it was. When you miss a day, you have to keep going. That’s where my struggle was.”

During her sophomore year, Graves left Roosevelt and started attending the American Indian OIC’s alternative high school, Takoda Prep. She liked it and was doing well there because the classes were small and she got more individual attention. But Graves’ family moved to another part of the city and she was forced to change schools — twice.

“I wish I would have stayed at OIC,” she said. “I probably would have finished.”

Graves dropped out of that last high school. Her heroin habit turned into a full-fledged addiction. Soon, she was also homeless.

She stopped using drugs three years ago, when she found out she was pregnant. After her son, Aden, was born, Graves decided it was time to go back to school and get her diploma. At 23, she’s taking classes and studying for the GED tests.

Graves’ parents never finished high school. Her mom got pregnant with her at 15. Graves’ father was 18. He dropped out of school in order to find work and support the family; Graves is the oldest of four kids.

“Just like I’d seen my dad struggle with us, I don’t want to have to go through that,” said Graves. “I want to finish school, get a good job, so I can support my son. So he can have a good life.”

After she gets her GED certificate, Graves wants to get a degree and work as a drug counselor. She wants to help young people who are experiencing the same problems she went through as a teenager.

“I want to be able to be a drug counselor because I know how it is. I know how it feels. I know it’s hard,” she said. “The first few times it’s about getting high, but you get to the point where you need it to be normal. That’s what it got to me for. And I’m just thankful I found out I was pregnant. He changed my life.”

Read and listen to the complete MPR story here.

Legislative Alert

A critical meeting is taking place on Friday which will help determine how the Minnesota legislature addresses the disparities faced by communities of color in our state. This meeting is an important first step toward resolving damaging community issues and American Indian OIC is encouraged by this action. We are hopeful that a path to equity is possible for all Minnesotans and encourage community members and allies to remind our decision makers that American Indians in the state continue to face considerable disparities. Notably:

  • Minnesota’s Native American households have an annual median income of $32,000. This is 48% less than the state’s overall median household income of $61,500.
  • The unemployment rate for the American Indian population of Minnesota is 10.8% and 40.8% of the population is considered to be ‘not in the labor force,’ meaning that nearly 52% of working-age American Indian Minnesotans are jobless.

American Indian OIC feels that issues facing our community are often overlooked by our immediate power structure and we hope that you will use your voice to make our community’s needs heard. We encourage you to attend the meeting on Friday to share your experiences or to simply be present to lend your support to the Native community and all communities of color in our state.

Legislative Working Group on Disparities & Opportunities
Friday, January 15, 2016
100 Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard
Room 200
St. Paul, MN 55155
Public testimony is permitted

If you cannot attend Friday’s meeting, please contact your legislators and let them know that American Indians and other communities of color in Minnesota face many disparities and we need their advocacy and support.

Learn more about employment and economic disparities faced by Natives in Minnesota here.

Second Chance Pays off for Computer Support Student

Chris enrolled in college following his high school graduation, and – like many young people – perhaps did not value higher education as strongly as he should have. Within a few months of starting his college program, he dropped out.

For the next decade Chris struggled to find his way. He bounced from job to job and simply could not get ahead. After finding himself again unemployed in early 2014, Chris decided to make a change. He learned of the Computer Support Specialist training program offered at the American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute of Higher Education. Its curriculum aligned with his personal interests and its tuition was fully covered by Pell grants and scholarships – meaning he would graduate free from the burden of student loan debt.

In just nine months, Chris completed the Computer Support Specialist program and obtained multiple industry recognized Information Technology credentials. While at the Takoda Institute, Chris worked with a career counselor to secure employment in his field. His counselor connected him with an internship, helped him develop a dynamic résumé, and advocated to employers on his behalf.

We are happy to report that Chris is now working full-time as an IT service agent with the City of Minneapolis. For the first time in his life he feels like he has a career and not just another job without long-term prospects. Chris wants to grow in his profession and eventually sees himself working in network security. He is appreciative of the American Indian OIC and its Takoda Institute for its career focus and for the consistent and supportive environment he experienced here.

If you’ve participated in an American Indian OIC program and would like to share your success with our readers, contact Amber White Bear at 612.341.3358, x176

Now Enrolling for Winter Quarter

Enrollment Period Extended through December 31

American Indian OIC’s accredited career training school, the Takoda Institute of Higher Education, is now enrolling for its Winter Quarter.

The Takoda Institute offers accredited training in the fields of business, healthcare, and information technology. Takoda graduates are prepared to work as administrative professionals, human services technicians, health information specialists, and computer support specialists. According to the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development, these occupations are in the top 12% most in-demand in the Twin Cities metro and their annual median wages range from $31,000 for human services technicians to $52,000 for computer support specialists. Career counselors provide each student with individualized career support as they work to enter their field of study. The school’s professional development courses in IT Information Library and Project Management also start on November 30.

No program lasts longer than nine months and Pell grants fully cover tuition, books, and fees for qualifying students. Scholarships are also available. Visit the Takoda Institute’s website to learn more.

Two Certificates, One Great Career

Antonitte came to American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute in 2012. She was a single mother looking to prove to herself that any situation could be made better, so she enrolled in the vocational school’s nine-month Administrative Assistant training program. While enrolled, Antonitte learned applicable work skills like project management, keyboarding, and database management and gained hands-on field experience by completing an internship with the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency.

After her graduation, Antonitte obtained a position as a human resources assistant. She worked in that position for a year before she realized that she missed working in the healthcare environment that she was exposed to during her Takoda Institute internship. Antonitte then came back to the school to complete Takoda’s six-month Health Information training. She completed the program on a Vape/Gorney/Bellecourt scholarship, which is a newly established scholarship that allows any student of Native descent to attend the Takoda Institute at no out-of-pocket costs.

Armed with considerable classroom and on-the-job training, Antonitte was now well-prepared to make a better life for her daughter and herself. As she was wrapping up the Health Information training, she worked diligently with her Takoda Institute career counselor to obtain employment in her field. Her counselor helped her develop her cover letter and resume and helped her search for job opportunities. Just a few weeks after her graduation, Takoda’s career services team referred her to an open position at a nearby clinic. She was hired and now works full-time for Indian Health Board as a health program support technician. She assists their Diabetes Management program where she helps cook healthy meals and performs administrative work like preparing materials for patients. She appreciates the opportunity to help the community navigate the obstacles and barriers that life presents.

Antonitte speaks highly of her time at American Indian OIC’s Takoda Institute. She built long-lasting friendships, learned life skills, enjoyed the small classroom size, and especially appreciated the easy commute. She credits her instructors for her success because they were flexible and willing to help her balance her professional life as a student and her personal life as a mother. Antonitte encourages current and future students to “try your best and don’t be afraid to ask for help. Make friends with your cohort, instructors, and the AIOIC staff- they are always there to help.”

If you have benefited from American Indian OIC’s programs and would like to share your story, contact Amber White Bear at 612.341.3358, x176.

AIOIC Graduate Advances in her Career


Angel Photo ii

Angel DeLeon came to American Indian OIC in 2000. She was a single parent with a plan to complete the Administrative Assistant program and pursue better employment opportunities. And she did just that. In March of 2001, Angel graduated with both an Administrative Assistant and Financial Services certificate. She was hired at TCF Bank where she worked for two years and achieved much success, including working her way up to Assistant Branch Manager.

After taking a few years off to raise her daughter, Angel realized she wanted to pursue further education and enrolled at the Minnesota School of Business. In just 33 months and while working full-time, Angel earned her Bachelor of Science Degree in accounting. She is now working for IWCO Direct in Chanhassen, Minnesota, and recently received IWCO’s President’s Award for Personal Commitment, which also came with a pay raise and bonus.

Angel thanks her mother for showing her the importance of a great work ethic and dedication to pursuing her goals and dreams; she appreciates her instructors who were knowledgeable, patient, and understanding of her needs as a student; and is grateful to her children for being patient with her busy school and work schedule for so many years. Angel’s future plans include attending the University of Minnesota to obtain a Master’s Degree.

If you are an American Indian OIC client or graduate and would like to share an update with our readers, please contact Amber White Bear at 612.341.3358, x176

AIOIC Serves Clients From Over 35 Tribal Nations

American Indian OIC strives to make the Native American community stronger and richer. Though the agency is located in Minneapolis, many American Indian individuals from throughout Indian Country have utilized its education and employment services. During 2013 and 2014, American Indian OIC’s clients represented three dozen tribal nations from ten different US states. Click through the map below for more detailed information.


Marking Progress & Affirming Goals

Although the world just moved into 2015, it is mid business year for the American Indian OIC. With the first half of the calendar over, AIOIC has already accomplished a number of initiatives. As we finished out 2014, our education and training programs saw 871 people. In addition, the jobs gained from our employment programs finished at 421. Despite our success, many of our programs continue to expand. We have been working since October to offer employment, mentorship, and post-secondary exploration through our new Native Youth Works program. In addition, the Takoda Institute of Higher Education (A Division of American Indian OIC) has introduced new advanced training courses in programming and web development. Our President and CEO has continued to serve in a leadership capacity within both the Metropolitan Urban Indian Directorate Group (aka MUID Group) and the Emerging Workforce Coalition (aka EWC), which is a coalition comprised of community-based organizations representing the workforce development needs of minority and immigrant populations in Minnesota.

As we look to the remainder of this year, we have a number of additional objectives to complete. Over the next few months, we intend to . . .

1. Aggressively expand our Adult Basic Education / GED program so that it will serve as an educational bridge to our accredited post-secondary offerings. Potential coursework will include basic computer skills, keyboarding, advanced mathematics, advanced literacy, and the potential to audit some of Takoda Institute of Higher Education courses to prepare students for immediate transition, or for matriculation at an outside college.

2. Introduce additional post-secondary courses within the fields of information technology, internet and media marketing, and web development for the Takoda Institute of Higher Education. Based on input provided by our employer partners such as Wells Fargo, Impact/Smith Micro Technologies, Crestview Communities, George Konik Associates, and MNIT (Information Technology for Minnesota Government) – along with the information generated from our own internal employment research – we believe that the skill sets present within these new offerings will further help graduates gain the attention of area employers and procure meaningful employment – particularly as many companies within the state of Minnesota face retirements of up to 30% of its staff over the next several years.

3. Develop and implement IT coding or programming language courses within our high school – Takoda Prep. AIOIC leadership has been in contact with the national founder of the organization #YesWeCode – a California-based nonprofit committed to reducing the economic gaps for students of color by introducing higher level skill sets within the K-12 framework. Although this program will take a bit longer to realize, AIOIC does have access to a number of instructors on site who have experience in such languages such as HTML, JAVA, and SQL – that can be directly applied to the development of our own curriculum initiatives in the near term. Our hope is to move ahead and connect students in Takoda Prep with these skills that they can take with them to college, training, or employment.

4. Continue on with our exploration towards the potential for replicating AIOIC’s Takoda Prep High School and Adult Basic Education / GED model in St. Paul and outstate Minnesota. Internal and external evaluations have shown that our systems are working to help American Indians and other minority groups sustain high levels of engagement and attendance, as well as to complete these programs by obtaining either their high school diploma or obtain their GED. Our intention is to bring these same resources to people living beyond the city limits of Minneapolis as a means of further empowering our community as a whole within the state.

5. Further direct and strengthen the existing partnerships present within the MUID Group. By streamlining services and creating strong committees within the realms of public safety, health & wellness, family wellness & preservation, employment & economic development, and education, we will continue to re-engage active participation within our community, as well as direct collective efforts on behalf of our community with relevant stakeholders within both the private and public sectors. Ultimately, our goal is to bring more resources to our community and keep Indian issues first and foremost in the minds of foundations, as well as policy makers and government officials at the city, county, state, and federal levels through collective action.

6. We will continue to expand the work of AIOIC’s Takoda Group Staffing by creating a stronger and more accessible service delivery system to unemployed individuals and connecting more broadly with area employers.

While this remains an ambitious set of objectives for our organization to pursue during the remainder of this year, we are confident that we will not only achieve these objectives, but will also be able to expand upon their conceptions in a manner that best suits the needs of our participants and our community.

The state of American Indian Employment in Minnesota

Over the last six months, the American Indian OIC has been working to better understand the prevalence of unemployment among Minnesota’s Native people. As a community-based nonprofit focused on workforce development, we frequently hear of economic disparities between American Indians and other populations. However, only recently were we able to gain firm data from the State’s Department of Employment and Economic Development (MN DEED) validating the seriousness of the issue.

“21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives
aged 16 to 65 are out of work.”

According to MN DEED, 51% of American Indians of age to work are without a job. Specifically, this means that 21,036 of 41,442 Minnesota Natives aged 16 to 65+ are out of work. Although the state has supported thousands of American Indians over the last two years with programs such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and Heading Home, few people have been helped with direct employment placement programs that resulted in jobs, much less jobs with livable wages.   In fact, in these programs the number of people who gained jobs within a year after being in the program resulted in a job change of 5% – meaning only 342 additional people gained jobs over a two year period. More importantly, of those who were employed prior to being a part of the program, their salaries moved from $7,504 to $9,158 – a gain of $1,654 annually, signaling that these programs made little change in a family’s ability to secure economic stability.

Assuming that the programs mentioned above provided a variety of other supportive services families need such as transportation, child care, etc., it would be favorable if Native people had access to other programs that were specifically focused on job training and employment placement. However, when reviewing the data for the past two years, only 379 adults throughout the entire state – an average of 189 yearly – were helped with specialized job placement service programs funded by MN DEED.   Of those that were helped, more held jobs after being in the program, but their salaries were consistently lower than before they started.

For AIOIC, the next question was how can we change this situation? As an agency that works to build employment opportunities, we have some ideas, but we felt that the best source would come from the community itself.   Recently, AIOIC invited both employed and unemployed American Indians to participate in a listening session. At this meeting, we presented the data above and asked only two questions: 1) Based on this data, what suggestions do you have to improve employment and 2) if we were able to implement priority suggestions, how would you engage the community to take advantage of these opportunities.

Not surprisingly, the community was just as informed about the strengths and challenges they face as those of us offering workforce development programs. Felony convictions, lack of child care, lack of transportation, and lack of good housing were a few of the challenges mentioned. However, participants offered more insight into what could be done to address the jobless problem, much of which involved engagement. They suggested that we work to help define careers, explain why jobs are valuable, and offer more locations for GED and more opportunity for job training. Their suggestions for engagement were to train program staff on motivational interviewing, develop leadership skills among participants, hold monthly support groups, and offer paid on-the-job experiences with area employers. In addition, they would mandate sobriety, set and celebrate goals, and help people understand how they represent their community. We couldn’t have agreed more with their statements.

Overall, it seems evident that more actual job placement resources need to be available to Native people in Minnesota. Without investment, the possibility of bridging the economic disparity gap is nonsensical. In addition, our hope is to find opportunities to expand our programs to address much of what we and the community know to be true, to have a broader investment in people when they walk in the door. Many people are not ready to transition from joblessness or reservation life to job placement. They need further academic support, they need to engage in leadership and personal development, they need paid, on-the-job training experiences, and they need a broader sense of community to work towards and celebrate their successes.

In partnership with the Northwest Indian OIC, the American Indian OIC of Minneapolis is working to gain the attention of the State to improve career training and job placement services for Minnesota’s American Indians. The commissioner of MN DEED and staff of the Minnesota Jobs Skills Partnership have begun playing a more active role in concert with our organization. However, Minnesota’s Natives have been left out of state plans focused on jobs and training. At a recent State-Regional Talent and Workforce Development Forum, hosted by MN DEED in partnership with the Metropolitan Council and Greater MSP, state economic development leaders convened to identify shared priorities and strategies to grow the state’s economy through talent development and other initiatives. A handout at the meeting presented unemployment and wage data among minority populations as a potential workforce of the future; however, American Indians were not even listed. When questioned about its absence, the response was, “they are statistically insignificant.”

“….they are statistically insignificant.”

If you disagree with this assertion, and like us, you believe that you are significant, that people in your community should be considered in state plans for talent development through jobs and training, please contact the honorable Governor, Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400 or http://mn.gov/governor/contact-us/ and let them know your first name, the city you live in, your Nation, and that you and your community are significant and need to be recognized in the planning of Minnesota’s workforce development.

For more information, contact Mitzi Hobot, 612.341.3358, x110