Tribal Colleges and Universities

You’ve heard of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) but do you know about TCUs? Tribal Colleges and Universities were established by Native Americans to educate themselves and preserve native culture, languages and traditions. The first and largest TCU, Navajo Community College (now Diné College) was founded by the Navajo tribe in 1968.

Today, there are 35 accredited TCUs in the United States and all have open admission policies (AIHEC). Fourteen of these institutions offer accredited bachelor’s degree programs, five offer master’s degree programs, 35 offer associate’s degrees, and 29 offer certificate programs.

TCUs are located on or near Indian reservations mainly in the Midwest and Southwest and according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) , “operate more than 75 campuses in 16 states—virtually covering Indian Country—and serve students from well more than 230 federally recognized Indian tribes.”

Although Tribal Colleges and Universities serve over 17,000 Native students, a significant number of them are nontraditional in that almost half are older than 25 years of age, 25% are single parents, 62% are female and 64% are full-time students (AIHEC, 2015). You are not required to be Native American to enroll at a TCU. Non-Native American/Alaska Natives make up 22% of the combined total enrollment at tribal colleges and universities (White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education).

The Need for TCUs
According to the American Indian College Fund, American Indians account for only 1% of all college students, only 13.6% earn a college degree due to the unique challenges they face when seeking an education and more than 28% live below the poverty line, compared to the national poverty rate of 15.5% for the overall population (American Community Survey 2014).

In 1973, the first six American Indian tribally controlled colleges established the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) to provide a support network as they worked to influence federal policies on American Indian higher education. In 1994, the Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994 provided land-grant status for Tribal Colleges and Universities which made federal funding available to TCUs.

However, despite this legislation, Tribal Colleges and Universities are the “most poorly funded higher education institutions in the United States.” The average cost of attendance (tuition, room, board and books) for TCUs during the 2014-15 school year was approximately $16,355 (AICF). That’s not an alarming price for four-year colleges and universities, but at 52% higher than all public community colleges in the Unites States, it’s more than double the cost for attending a two-year institution (AIHEC).

Providing Assistance to Native Americans and TCUs
The American Indian College Fund was established to raise private-sector funds for scholarships for American Indian students and to support TCUs. To date, the fund has provided more than 100,000 scholarships and an average of 6,000 scholarships per year to American Indian students.

There are colleges and universities in the United States that offer free in-state tuition/tuition waivers, transfer and/or dual admission agreements to TCU students who belong to one of the 566 federally recognized American Indian tribes . For example, eligible Native Americans who reside in the state of Michigan and Montana can have their tuition waived at public two and four-year institutions through the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver and through the Montana University System American Indian Undergraduate Tuition Waiver program. However, room, board, books and other fees are not covered by the waivers and are the responsibility of the student.

The North Dakota University System has transfer agreements between University system campuses and the five tribal colleges in North Dakota. Other TCUs have transfer agreements with other colleges and universities not only within their state, but outside as well like Chief Dull Knife College.

For more information on TCUs, visit the White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education, American Indian Higher Education Consortium, American Indian College Fund and the Bureau of Indian Education.

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