- American Indian Enrollment Increases 62% from 1990 to 1996; 25,000 Students Total
- Successes Achieved Despite Severe Financial Shortages, Limited Facilities
- Comprehensive Report Reviews Enrollments, Funding, Unique Community Role of Tribal Schools
Washington, D.C., March 3, 1999—Tribal Colleges—unique postsecondary institutions that serve the reservation-based American Indian population—are enrolling record numbers of students and having a broad impact on the economic, social, and cultural growth of students and communities, according to a new report. These accomplishments have been achieved despite severe underfunding, high rates of poverty and unemployment, and poor academic facilities, according to the comprehensive study.
The 31 U.S.-based Tribal Colleges enrolled 25,000 students in the 12-month academic period of 1995-96, up from approximately 2,100 just 15 years earlier, in 1982. Total fall enrollment of American Indian students at Tribal Colleges increased by 62% from 1990 to 1996, according to the report, which provides a broad array of previously unpublished information and data.
The successes achieved by Tribal Colleges have been made despite severe financial shortages. Because Tribal Colleges have been established by sovereign nations and are usually located on federal Trust lands, they typically do not receive support from states. And because of the poor economic conditions on many reservations, financial resources from the communities are extremely limited.
The main source of support for Tribal Colleges is the federal government, under the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act. However, the $2,964 available per Indian student in fiscal 1999 is almost 40% less than what the typical community college receives in per-student funding from federal, state, and local government revenues, the report states.
The report, “Tribal Colleges: An Introduction,” was produced by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), an Alexandria, VA-based organization that supports the work of the colleges, and The Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, DC-based education research group.
Most Tribal Colleges are less than 30 years old, according to the report, with many established in the 1970s and 1980s. They were created to provide educational access to reservation-based residents who often had not seen college as possible. While succeeding, the colleges continue to struggle because of limited funding, facilities that often include abandoned or temporary buildings, and geographic isolation.
Many Tribal College students are the first generation in their family to go to college. The average age of Tribal College students is 32, and 64% are women. Most attend on a part-time basis.
“Our communities suffer from so much economic depression and social adversity,” stated Janine Pease- Pretty On Top, President of Little Big Horn College in Crow Agency, Montana and President of AIHEC. “But the Tribal Colleges provide real opportunity that strengthens our economic development, cultural understanding, and social stability. We need to build on these successes and make college possible for a much broader group of American Indian people.”
All of the 31 U.S. Tribal Colleges offer associate’s degrees, four offer bachelor’s degrees, and two offer master’s degrees. Tribal Colleges are similar to mainstream community colleges, but have a dual mission: to rebuild, reinforce, and explore traditional tribal cultures, and at the same time to provide traditional disciplinary courses that are transferable to other institutions.
The Tribal Colleges also are actively involved in a broad range of community efforts, including basic education, counseling services, and economic development initiatives. The colleges often offer courses in tribal languages and other traditional subjects, and frequently use tribal elders as faculty.
“These colleges are models for other colleges and universities,” said Jamie Merisotis, President of The Institute for Higher Education Policy. “With very limited resources and facilities, Tribal Colleges not only survive, they succeed. The rest of American higher education can learn a lot from the community orientation, efficiency, and sheer determination that drives Tribal Colleges.”
The report is the first in a series produced under the Tribal College Research and Database Initiative, a collaborative effort between the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the American Indian College Fund. The Initiative is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans, and the Pew Charitable Trusts.