New online degree takes hassle out of getting a tassel

ASU’s School of Social Transformation will offer master's degree in indigenous education to graduate students in remote areas

Woman in gray shawl


Putting mortarboards on Native Americans has historically been a challenge for colleges and universities.

Indigenous peoples’ pathways to higher education are littered with hurdles: Many live in remote areas, commutes can take hours and access to the internet is difficult. That especially rings true for Native American graduate students, who often work and stay in their communities after graduation.

Arizona State University’s School of Social Transformation and the Center for Indian Education have figured out a way to bring the campus to the reservation (and other remote parts of the world) with a new online master’s degree program that will debut this month.

“The center develops programs that first begin with a conversation: listening to the needs of indigenous communities who are seeking support to provide new opportunities that meet the needs of their own individual communities,” said Deborah Chadwick, interim co-director of the Center for Indian Education.

ASU Now spoke to Chadwick about the new program, which starts this semester.

Question: How did the idea for this program come about, and how long did it take to develop it?

Answer: The idea for creating an online MA in Indigenous Education program was first prompted by tribal communities and nations located within Arizona and outside the state. In conversations with them, they stressed a need for a graduate program in indigenous education that would allow potential students to stay in their Native communities and/or jobs while earning a graduate degree. This online program provides students the opportunity to stay within their own communities while strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations’ education programs. 

Although initial conversations about developing an online program started in the fall of 2012, the actual development of the indigenous education program of study began in spring 2016 by a core of indigenous faculty from the School of Social Transformation and other faculty and staff with many years of experience working with tribal communities and Native students. This group of individuals were mindful in the development of a program of study that engages individuals who are either interested in or currently working with and in indigenous communities or schools serving indigenous children.

Q: Since this is an online degree, who will be your audience and what is your reach? 

A: We have marketed this online program throughout the U.S. and internationally. We envision people will come to the program from multiple backgrounds — education, social science, human services, environmental studies, tourism, tribal and state government entities — with an interest in building their knowledge base that focuses on indigenous education.

The primary audience for this degree are those working in indigenous education, those working for tribal nations with education programs, those businesses working on tribal land for or with tribal members and those interested in American Indian education. 

Interest in our program has come from as far away as a high school administrator and science teacher in the Philippines. We have received applications from prospective students from Ohio, Washington and Arizona. We foresee the demographics of students will broaden, as recruiting students will be ongoing.

Q: What is the benefit of learning this particular material online?

A: The online format of delivery of the indigenous education program is a way to reach a greater audience of potential students that might not have the opportunity to leave their community. I believe online courses are more accessible to students who do not have the privilege to leave their communities due to family responsibilities, employment and desire to continue supporting their tribal community.

This online program will focus on indigenous knowledge systems, current issues in American Indian education, history of American Indian education, issues of indigenous language and culture, American Indian education policy, American Indians in higher education and critical indigenous research methodologies and community-based participatory action research. 

Q: Is there a central theme in this program?

A: The MA in Indigenous Education program seeks to explore differences between the indigenous educational processes, or the ways knowledge has been passed down through generations, and Western institutions of schooling.

The goal of this degree is to provide students with an advanced theoretical foundation and current practices in indigenous education, strengthening their ability to work in the field of Indian education and within tribal nations with education programs.

Learn more about the degree on the ASU Online site. Top photo: Deborah Chadwick, project director and senior research professional at the Center for Indian Education, is leading a new online master's degree program, the MA Online Indigenous Education, with three courses being offered in the spring. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

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