Building on the momentum of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s,
American Indian leaders began to conceive of tribally controlled institutions
of higher education that would support efforts for Indian self-determination
and strengthen tribal culture without assimilation (Boyer, 1997). Dine
College (formerly Navajo College) was the first tribally controlled college
chartered in 1968 by the Navajo Nation in Arizona. Other tribal colleges
quickly followed. Today 32 Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) in the
United States are members of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium
(AIHEC). All TCUs offer associate degrees, four colleges offer bachelor's
degrees, and two offer master's degrees. In addition, many TCUs collaborate
with regional universities through distance education and articulation
agreements, offering students access to additional courses and advanced
degrees. Each Tribal College is accredited or in the process of becoming
accredited, giving students opportunities to transfer to four-year institutions
and meeting the standards required by accrediting agencies in their particular
region of the United States.
TCUs provide postsecondary access to American Indian students who might
not otherwise participate in higher education. Stein (1999) writes that
Tribal College students represent the smallest, poorest and most underrepresented
minority group in higher education. This Digest provides a brief overview
of TCUs and a list of resources.
AMERICAN INDIAN HIGHER EDUCATION CONSORTIUM (AIHEC)
In 1972, the presidents of the first six TCUs formed the American Indian
Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC, 1999). AIHEC now represents 32 TCUs
in the United States and one Canadian institution and is jointly governed
by representatives from each member institution. AIHEC offers technical
assistance to new and struggling colleges and leads efforts in the development
of TCUs. AIHEC's (1999) stated mission is to support the network of TCUs
and the national movement for self-determination. In so doing, AIHEC has
identified the following objectives:
* Maintain standards of quality in American Indian education
* Assure participation in the foundation and administration of educational
legislation, policy, rules, regulations, and budgets
* Assist TCUs in establishing a secure financial base
* Encourage greater participation of American Indians in higher education
CURRICULUM AND COMMUNITY SERVICE
TCUs generally serve geographically isolated American Indian populations
living on or near reservations and offer curricula and programs that respond
to community needs. In addition to offering vocational certificate programs
and two-year associate degrees in arts, science and applied science, TCUs
offer curricula that reflect the cultures of chartering tribes. This includes
courses in tribal languages, literature, history and other traditional
tribal subjects (AIHEC, 1999). TCUs also provide critically needed services
to support the surrounding community such as libraries, health care facilities,
support for entrepreneurial and economic development, and cultural preservation
projects (American Indian College Fund, 2001). Moreover, TCUs have become
repositories of tribal knowledge and oral histories and many library facilities
house tribal archives. Most administrators are American Indian, and most
faculty members are non-Indian (Pavel et al.., 1998).
TCUs are in a unique funding situation. They do not receive funding
from state governments due to their status as trust territories, and tribal
governments cannot levy property taxes. As a result, TCUs rely heavily
on federal funds for core operational funding. This is in accord with treaty
obligations and trust responsibility between sovereign Indian tribes or
nations and the U. S. government. Most funding comes from the Tribally
Controlled College and University Assistance Act of 1978 (TCCUAA) which
is administered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Funds, primarily from
Title I, are allocated to 25 of the colleges based on the number of Indian
students from federally recognized tribes that are enrolled. In 1996, the
FTE (full-time equivalent) was $2,900 per full-time enrolled Indian student
(Pavel et al., 1998). According to Stein (1999), this amount should be
kept in perspective when compared with the national average cost for mainstream
nonresident community colleges, which operate at $7,000 per FTE. TCUs must
make up for shortages in funding by charging tuition averaging $1,950 per
year (AIHEC, 2001), a prohibitive cost to some students.
Other sources of funding for tribal colleges include the 1996 White
House Executive Order on Tribal Colleges and Universities (No. 13021),
which elevated the status of TCUs by requiring federal departments and
agencies to develop specific strategies to support TCUs, and federal legislation
providing land-grant status to tribal colleges. Having status as a land-grant
institution means that Tribal Colleges have access to resources that can
be invested in additional faculty and/or equipment to conduct agricultural
research either independently or in collaboration with four-year institutions
(Pavel et al.., 1998). Tribal colleges also receive funding from a variety
of philanthropic and corporate organizations.
TRIBAL COLLEGE STUDENTS
The average age of a Tribal College student is 30, and women outnumber
men. It is estimated that 85% of Tribal College students live at or below
poverty levels (American Indian College Fund, N.D.). According to AIHEC
(1999) many Tribal College students:
* Have children and are head of their household
* Live at home
* Have jobs outside of school.
* Are the first in their families to go to college
Non-Indian students comprise 15 to 20 percent of the student population
of TCUs. More than 40% of Tribal College graduates pursue further education,
and another 50% find jobs, even in areas of high unemployment (AIHEC, 2000).
Tribal College students "stop-out" or skip semesters more frequently
than traditional undergraduates at mainstream community colleges. A study
by Red Leaf (1999) showed that family responsibilities, lack of financial
support and employment were primary reasons for stopping out of college.
Employment is often needed to provide for family needs. Despite high levels
of stopping out, most participants planned to continue their education
beyond the Tribal College to pursue their career goals.
TCUS AND LOCAL ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT
TCUs engage in the development of local economies in both direct and
long-term ways. According to AIHEC (2001), TCUs contribute directly to
local economies through institutional spending, job creation by the college
or university, by the provision of services to the local community. Long-term
effects result from institutional missions to provide workforce development
in a local context. Students who graduate from TCUs often seek employment
within the community since the technical and degree programs offered at
TCUs are specific to the needs of the tribal and/or community. One example
of Tribal College engagement in local development is through collaboration
with the Rural Community College Initiative (RCCI), a national project
that works with community colleges in specific distressed rural areas.
Six Tribal Colleges are receiving help through RCCI in order to develop
small businesses that are compatible with tribal culture and resources.
TCUs are unique institutions that provide educational, cultural, emotional,
and monetary support for Indian students while at the same time bolstering
community efforts for cultural revitalization, health and social needs,
and economic development. While TCUs share many characteristics with mainstream
community colleges, they are distinguished by a dual mission to perpetuate
traditional tribal culture and provide certificates or two-year degrees
that will enhance student's employment opportunities and facilitate transfer
to four-year institutions.
American Indian Higher Education Consortium http://www.aihec.org
The Rural Community College Initiative http://www.mdcinc.org/rcci/
Tribal College Journal www.tribalcollegejournal.org/
American Indian College Fund (N.D). Fact sheet about Tribal Colleges.
Retrieved December 1, 2000 from www.collegefund.org
American Indian Higher Education Consortium, The Institute for Higher
Education Policy and Sallie Mae Education Institute (2000). Creating role
models for change: A survey of Tribal College graduates. Alexandra, VA:
American Indian Higher Education Association (AIHEC) and the Institute
for Higher Education Policy (1999). Tribal Colleges: An Introduction..
Washington, DC: Authors.
American Indian Higher Education Association (AIHEC) and the Institute
for Higher Education Policy, (2001). Tribal College Contributions to Local
Economic Development. Washington, DC: Authors. (RC023092).
Boyer, P. (1997). Native American Colleges: Progress and prospects.
An Ernest L. Boyer Project of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching. Princeton, NJ: Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of
Teaching. (ED 409 037).
Pavel, D. M., Skinner, R., Farris, E., Cahalan, M., Tippeconnic, J.,
& Stein, W. (1998). American Indians and Alaska Natives in postsecondary
education (NCES No. 98291). Washington, DC: US Department of Education,
National Center for Education Statistics.
Red Leaf, Betty, T. (April, 2001). Retention and attrition patterns
at a tribal college. Paper presented at Research in Indian Education Annual
conference, Albuquerque, NM.
Stein, W. J. (1999). Tribal Colleges: 1968-1998. Charleston, WV: ERIC
Clearinghouse on Rural and Small Schools. (ED 427 913).