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Increasing in popularity, the use of narrative inquiry in qualitative research study offers a unique perspective and context in sharing lived experiences. This article utilizes a narrative inquiry study to improve the knowledge of why American Indian students have the lowest college graduation rates in the United States. These narratives helped define the barriers that have discouraged American Indian students from persisting in higher education. Predominantly, participants identified the lack of financial support, lack of cultural competency, emotional distress, time poverty, afraid to ask for help, afraid to succeed, and navigating through the college processes as barriers to their educational success. Additionally, the participants’ narratives identify themes of persistence that include the importance of having a role model, fear of failure, making the family proud, advancement opportunities, and support from family, friends, and cohorts. These barriers and themes of persistence provide a better insight into why American Indian students have the lowest advanced degree completion rates of any ethnic group. By delving into the personal educational journeys of seven American Indians at varying stages of their educational experience, rich narratives were created for the qualitative study and highlighted in this article.

Publication Date

Fall 12-15-2023


American Indian, graduate school, persistence themes, barriers, narrative inquiry, storytelling


Curriculum and Instruction | Educational Leadership | Educational Methods | Higher Education | Indigenous Education


Kristina Cirks, Ed.D., has worked in higher education for over 16 years and is currently the TRIO McNair Scholars Associate Director at Bemidji State University. She assists first-generation, low-income, and underrepresented students in preparing and applying to graduate school. She received her undergraduate degree in Communication with a writing minor from the College of Saint Benedict, St. Joseph, MN and received her masters degree in Educational Leadership with an emphasis in Higher Education and her Ed.D. in Educational Leadership from Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Narrative Inquiry in Practice: A Study Identifying Themes of Persistence and Barriers in the Educational Journeys of American Indian Students in Higher Education