The Educational Aspirations/Attainment Gap Among Rural Alaska Native Students

Aaron Doyle, Judith Kleinfeld, Maria Reyes


Indigenous students in rural Alaska hold high educational aspirations and yet few students realize their educational goals (Hamilton & Seyfrit, 1993; Kleinfeld & McDiarmid, 1986; McDiarmid & Kleinfeld, 1981). Our purpose in this study was to
understand why so many Alaska Native students from small, isolated communities “drift” after high school, neither entering the postsecondary programs they aspire to, nor engaging in paid work. The contribution of this study is to clarify the reasons for the “educational aspirations-achievement gap,” in other words, why so many Alaska Native rural students have high educational expectations, and yet remain directionless in adult life. This is an issue on which virtually no research has been done. This paper also suggests ways that rural schools and postsecondary institutions can assist Alaska Native students in obtaining the postsecondary education to which they aspire.


Alaska Natives Commission. (2006). Key facts and findings. Retrieved October 28, 2008 from

Glaser, B G. & Strauss, A. L. (1967). The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine.

Goldsmith, S., Angvik, J., Howe, L., Hill, A., and Leask, L. (2004). The status of Alaska Natives report 2004. Anchorage: Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Haller, E. J., & Virkler, S. (1993). Another look at ruralnonrural differences in students’ educational aspirations. Journal of Research in Rural Education, 9(3), 170-178.

Hamilton. L. C., & Seyfrit, C. L. (1993). Town–village contrasts in Alaskan youth aspirations. Arctic, 46 (3), 225-263.

Hamilton, L. C., & Seyfrit, C. L. (1994). Female flight? Gender balance and outmigration by Native Alaskan Villagers. Arctic Medical Research, 53(Supplement 2), 19-193.

Hanson, S. L. (1994). Lost talent: Unrealized educational aspirations and expectations among U.S. Youths. Sociology of Education 67, 159-183.

Kao, G., & Tienda, M. (1998). Educational aspirations of minority youth. American Journal of Education, 106, 349-384.

Kleinfeld, J. S., & McDiarmid, G. W. (1986). The occupational values of rural Eskimo compared to urban White adolescents. Journal of American Indian Education, 25(3), 19-22.

Marini, M. M. & Greenberger, E. (date?)Sex differences in educational aspirations and expectations. American Educational Research Journal, 25 (1), 67-69.

McDiarmid, G. W., & Kleinfeld, J.S. (1981). Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief: The educational and occupational aspirations, plans, and preferences of Eskimo students on the Lower Yukon. Anchorage: Institute of Social and Economic Research.

Michaelson, R. A. (1990). The attitude-achievement paradox among Black adolescents. Sociology of Education, 63, 44-61.

Roderick, M. R. (2006, April). Closing the aspirationsattainment gap. Implications for high school reform: A commentary from Chicago. Manpower Demonstration

Research Corporation. Retrieved October 28, 2008 from

Schneider, B. & Stevenson, D. (1999). The ambitious generation: America’s teenagers motivated but directionless. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Seyfrit, C. L. & Hamilton, L. C. (1992). Alaska Natives and their attitudes toward education. Arctic Anthropology, 35 (1), 135-148.

Seyfrit, C.L., Hamilton, L. C., Duncan, C. M., & Grimes, J. (1998). Ethnic identity and aspirations among rural Alaska youth. Sociological Perspectives, 41 (2), 343-365.

University of Alaska (2004). University of Alaska student enrollment summary: A review of the enrollment changes 1997 to 2004 and a listing of current student enrollment statistics: Fairbanks: University of Alaska, The Office of Statewide Planning and Budget Development.

Yardley, W. (2007). One of the world’s highest suicide rates: Native Alaskan villages. International Herald Tribune. Retrieved Oct. 24, 2008 from http:///

Full Text: PDF


  • There are currently no refbacks.

Publication of the National Rural Education Association -

Report problems or questions about to the website to