ERIC Identifier: ED351047
Publication Date: 1992-09-00
Author: Pavel, D. Michael - Colby, Anita Y.
Clearinghouse for Junior Colleges Los Angeles CA.
American Indians in Higher Education: The Community College
Experience. ERIC Digest.
The community college is an important avenue for American Indians seeking to
obtain a postsecondary degree. "The Chronicle of Higher Education" ("Almanac,"
1992) reports that American Indian enrollment at two-year institutions has risen
steadily from 47,000 in 1980 to 54,000 in 1990, an increase of 14%. Although
their enrollment at four-year institutions increased by 29% over the same
period, as of 1990, American Indians were still more likely than Asians, Blacks,
or Whites to enroll at two-year colleges rather than four-year institutions. Of
the 92,500 American Indians enrolled in higher education in 1988, 50,400 were
attending two-year colleges (National Center for Education Statistics, 1991). Of
the total number of degrees conferred to American Indians in 1989-90, nearly 40%
were associate degrees. In comparison, approximately 20% of the degrees
conferred to Asians and Whites and 30% of those conferred to Blacks and
Hispanics were associate degrees.
This digest offers an optimistic and positive portrayal of the role of tribal
colleges and non-tribal community colleges in American Indian higher education.
Both types of institutions have much to offer as role models for other sectors
of higher education in serving minority populations.
TRIBAL "COMMUNITY" COLLEGES
The development of twenty-five
tribal colleges since 1969 represents an exciting development in American higher
education. In a little over 20 years, these unique institutions have established
a precedent of success that stands in stark contrast to 480 years of failure to
provide quality higher education services to American Indians. "One of the key
reasons for the tribal colleges' success has been the belief and practice that
students can remain Indian, can practice tribal traditions and retain tribal
values and also be successful students" (Amiotte and Allen, 1989, p. 1). While
several tribal colleges award four-year and master's degrees and one is a
university, these institutions are some of the most community oriented in higher
education. "Like their community college counterparts across the United States,
tribal colleges are expected to serve the needs of both individuals and
communities" (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, 1989, p. 52).
The philosophy of tribal colleges interweaves distinctive cultural elements
and a pragmatic approach into the postsecondary process. The curriculum
emphasizes not only the academic requirements of future educational and
occupational success, but also the cultural contributions and philosophies of
the tribal community (Wicks and Price, 1981). "Students learn firmly that who
they are and what they believe has great value. Rather than being a disorienting
experience for students, college represents a reinforcement of values inherent
in the tribal community" (Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching,
1989, p. 56). With this preparation and sense of self-worth, many tribal college
graduates have gone on for further study or found meaningful work in geographic
areas where low educational attainment levels and high unemployment rates are
the norm (Wright and Weasel Head, 1990).
This record of success is remarkable, given that tribal colleges commonly
experience such problems as inadequate facilities, low per student expenditures,
lack of comprehensive student services, low salaries, underfunded libraries, and
generally inadequate budgets (Wright, 1989; Carnegie Foundation, 1989). Also
remarkable is the high level of student satisfaction that Wright found with what
these institutions actually do provide. Part of what tribal colleges are
uniquely able to provide is culture conscious teaching. "Culture conscious
teaching is a learning process by which teachers acquaint themselves with the
culture(s) of their learners in order to use different modes and content of
instruction" (Robinson, 1989, p. 18). At Oglala Lakota College, this process
involves prospective teachers enrolling tuition-free in a college program in
Lakota studies (Robinson, 1989). The college expects teachers to realize that
they are to do more than dispense information--as teachers, they are expected to
act as the socializing agents of Indian history, language, and culture. They are
to help their students raise their aspirations and expectations and continue the
traditions of their society. Boyer (1990), too, stresses the importance of
students' learning that "the beliefs and practices that were once forcibly
suppressed by federal administrators do have value and relevance in the society
today" and points to the tribal colleges' incorporation of traditional culture
"throughout the entire curriculum in an effort to make subjects more relevant
and accessible to students" (p. 26).
A specific example of a culturally conscious approach to instruction is
provided by Haukoos and Satterfield (1986), who changed the climate of a biology
classroom to accommodate the high visual-perception and lower verbal and
expressive skills exhibited by American Indian students. Specific changes were
to emphasize discussion rather than lecture and to increase the wait-time during
question-and-answer sessions. In addition, the instructors took a less directive
position by sitting for most of the session at student eye level in front of the
desk. Discussion sessions were saturated with photographic slides and visuals
that contained relevant graphics, as well as images of organisms and natural
settings. Peer and teacher small group study sessions were implemented to
Several tribal colleges are utilizing cooperative learning strategies. Boyer
notes that these methods emphasize the value placed on cooperation in many
American Indian cultures, in comparison to the model of individual competition
more prevalent in Western culture. They also provide a greater level of personal
support to help students negotiate the college and financial aid bureaucracies
than is typically offered at most colleges and universities.
NON-TRIBAL COMMUNITY COLLEGES
Many non-Indian community
colleges have also been receptive to American Indian students and responsive to
their communities. James Henderson (1991), president of San Juan College in
Farmington, New Mexico, points out that "the community college will be the
institution that will increase the numbers of Native American students who
successfully transfer to a four-year institution and obtain a degree" (p. 49).
San Juan College itself has made major strides in carrying out this mission.
Five components undergird San Juan's success:
-Bridges between the community college and the K-12 system have allowed
students to earn college credits while in high school, encouraged students to
stay in school, and helped them and their parents to develop postsecondary
intentions and goals. In addition, students are advised about the high school
courses that they will need to prepare for specific college majors.
-A Native American Program, staffed by a full-time director, provides
counseling, assistance with scheduling, and information on tribal scholarships
and financial aid, while also providing leadership training and various
opportunities for social interaction, including an Indian club.
-An assessment and advisement program helps place students in appropriate
programs at the correct level.
-A Renewal Center offers tutoring at no cost and special workshops on
financial aid, academic study skills, and basic tips for students returning to
-Outreach is key to San Juan's success in recruiting and retaining American
Indian students. Off-campus learning centers, placed in close proximity to the
reservations, provide a variety of developmental, adult education, general
education, and community services classes.
Several of these components are reflected in programs targeting American
Indian students at other two-year colleges. The Mathematics, Engineering, and
Science Achievement/Minority Engineering program at American River College is
designed to serve as a bridge for American Indian and other minority students
between high school and college, providing scholarships, leadership development
activities, enrichment programs, and support services (Lee, and others, 1990).
The Institute for Native American Development at Truman College in Chicago also
has three overlapping components: advising/placement, academic skill
development/cultural awareness, and financial aid/job placement (Illinois State
Board of Education, 1983).
Whether tribal or non-Indian in origin and
administration, community colleges -- as community-based institutions -- are in
a good position to satisfy simultaneously the needs of American Indian cultures
and the demands of American society. Community colleges throughout the country
are committed to expanding access to higher education to people who would
otherwise be excluded and finding innovative and effective means of serving
nontraditional students in their quest for academic, vocational, and remedial
education. The educational future of many American Indians will depend upon the
colleges' continued success in fulfilling these missions.
"Almanac." CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION; v39 n1
Amiotte, Lowell, and Allen, Tom. "The 4 Year Community College: Tribal
Colleges, Some Lessons for Success for Indian Students in College." Paper
presented at the Minorities in Higher Education Conference, Hempstead, N.Y.,
March 9-11, 1989. 12pp. (ED 305 101)
Boyer, Paul. "The Tribal College: Teaching Self-Determination." COMMUNITY,
TECHNICAL, AND JUNIOR COLLEGE JOURNAL; v60 n3 p24-29 Dec.-Jan. 1989-1990.
Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. TRIBAL COLLEGES: SHAPING
THE FUTURE OF NATIVE AMERICA. Lawrenceville, N.J.: Princeton University Press,
Henderson, James C. "Minority Student Retention." In REKINDLING MINORITY ENROLLMENT. NEW DIRECTIONS FOR COMMUNITY COLLEGES, NO. 74. Edited by Dan Angel and Adriana Barrera. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1991.
Haukoos, Gerry D., and Satterfield, Robert. "Learning Styles of Minority
Students (Native Americans) and Their Application in Developing a Culturally
Sensitive Science Classroom." COMMUNITY/JUNIOR COLLEGE QUARTERLY OF RESEARCH AND
PRACTICE; v10 n3 p193-201 1986.
Illinois State Board of Education. THE INSTITUTE FOR NATIVE AMERICAN
DEVELOPMENT MODEL, 1979-1983. Springfield: Dept. of Adult, Vocational and
Technical Education, Illinois State Department of Education, 1983. 41pp. (ED 233
Lee, Beth S.; And Others. MESA/MEP AT AMERICAN RIVER COLLEGE: YEAR ONE
EVALUATION REPORT. Sacramento, Calif.: Los Rios Community College District,
1990. 45pp. (ED 319 472)
National Center for Education Statistics. DIGEST OF EDUCATION STATISTICS.
NCES-91-697. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Dept. of Education, 1991.
Robinson, Ann E. Garrett. "Culture Conscious Teaching: Case Study Approach."
COMMUNITY, TECHNICAL, AND JUNIOR COLLEGE JOURNAL; v60 n1 p17-21 Aug.-Sept. 1989.
Wicks, David H., and Price, Floyd H. THE AMERICAN INDIAN CONTROLLED COMMUNITY
COLLEGE MOVEMENT. Itta Bena, Miss.: Mississippi Valley State University, 1981.
8pp. (ED 214 611)
Wright, Bobby. "Tribally Controlled Community Colleges: An Assessment of
Student Satisfaction." COMMUNITY/JUNIOR COLLEGE QUARTERLY OF RESEARCH AND
PRACTICE; v13 n2 p119-28 1989.
Wright, Bobby, and Weasel Head, Patrick. "Tribally Controlled Community
Colleges: A Student Outcomes Assessment of Associate Degree Recipients."
Community College Review; v18 n3 p28-33 Winter 1990.