American Indian and Alaska Native students — have the lowest college enrollment of any race, according to recent data data From the National Center for Education Statistics – There are many obstacles faced when seeking to earn a degree. One is affordability.
According to U.S. Census data, 25.4 percent of people who identified as American Indians and Alaska Natives in 2018 lived in poverty, the highest of any population. The median annual household income for American Indian and Alaska Native households was $43,825 from 2015 to 2019, which was lower than the average for all groups except black households.
Meanwhile, in-state tuition at ranked public universities will average $10,388 in 2021-22, compared with $38,185 at private schools that year, according to US News ranking data.
Since many local students live in rural areas, they often face traffic problems and lack reliable broadband. According to the Federal Communications Commission, about 60 percent of people on tribal lands had fixed high-speed internet access in 2018, compared to 65 percent of Americans in rural areas and 97 percent of Americans in urban areas .
Tribal colleges and universities, also known as TCUs, were first established in 1968 to give Indigenous students the opportunity to earn degrees close to home at low cost and create economic opportunity on reservations.
What is a tribal college or university?
These public institutions of higher education are established by federally recognized Indian tribes or the federal government, and most are Native American or Alaska Native students.
“One of the great things about tribal colleges is that you get a comprehensive cultural education and you can complete the program debt-free,” said Carrie Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Alliance.
While designed to meet the needs of local students and local reservations, most TCUs are open to all students. According to NCES, TCU’s enrolled student population (just over 15,200 in 2020) is 79.1 percent American Indian or Alaska Native, 14.6 percent white and nearly 2 percent Hispanic. Black and Asian students each make up less than 1 percent of the student body.
How many tribal colleges and universities are there?
AIHEC recognizes 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities funded by the Federal Tribal-Controlled College and University Assistance Act of 1978, covering 14 states. Many TCUs are two-year institutions, but there are also many schools, including some technical colleges, that offer certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees, and master’s degrees.
according to American Indian University Fund, a nonprofit that provides scholarship support to local students, Montana has the most TCUs — seven — followed by North Dakota with five. Most are in the Southwest and Plains, while states like Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Washington have only one TCU. There is no TCU on the east coast.
Why attend a tribal college or university?
Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, said finding a sense of belonging on college campuses can be challenging for Indigenous students because they typically don’t see themselves represented in classes or faculty at non-TCU institutions .
According to recent NCES data, in 2020, people who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native make up 1 percent or less of the full-time faculty at non-TCU institutions. But Crazy Bull said that 30 to 40 percent of TCU’s faculty are local, drawn from the local community.
TCU’s curriculum is based on the culture, traditions, spirituality and language of the chartered tribes.
“The educational experience is taught from a tribal worldview that resonates with students,” Billy said. “The curriculum is about students, their communities, nation building, strengthening their tribes and themselves as individuals, community members, tribe members and family members.”
exist Menominee National College For example, in Wisconsin, courses cover topics such as Native American culture, Menomini languages, minority women in literature, and Indigenous film.
Elmer Guy, President Navajo Technical University In New Mexico, many Indian state leaders expressed “fear that we are losing language and culture.” As such, Navajo Tech offers the Diné Language, Culture and Leadership degree.
“We develop professionals so they can teach a language or culture in schools,” Guy said. “We’re trying to create an opportunity where language and culture are important and you can make a living out of that knowledge.”
Many TCUs offer a full range of services such as tutoring, service learning, child care, food pantries, and financial aid support to help with the transition from high school to college. Other support services are based on cultural activities, rituals and spirituality, Billy said.
“A tribal college student said to me, ‘We start every week with drums and end with pipes,'” Billy added. “It’s something you don’t see in a normal university – supporting your identity as an Aboriginal.”
Since affordability is a major barrier to college education for many Indigenous students – 87% of students were eligible for financial aid in 2015-2016, with an average grant of $10,750, according to the most recent NCES data – TCU usually offers lower cost tuition. According to AIHEC, the average tuition and fees at TCU in 2021-2022 is $3,744.
“They’re really trying to price tuition at a level that students can afford so they can take and complete a program that leads to employment,” Billy said.
some TCUs such as Dine College In Arizona, tuition discounts have begun due to the financial impact of the coronavirus pandemic — despite TCU’s chronic challenges of underfunding. Returning full-time students receive free tuition in Spring 2022, which means maintaining a GPA of at least 2.0. First-time full-time students are eligible for a 50% tuition and housing discount in Fall 2021.
There are also many scholarships offered by TCU and local nonprofits.
“Many students are first-generation and they don’t necessarily understand what it takes to apply for financial aid or apply for scholarships,” Crazy Bull said.She advises students to refer to college funds websitewhich contains a running list of available scholarships and tips on how to apply.
Because most TCUs are on or near reservations, many students don’t have to travel far to earn their degrees. Proximity also allows for partnerships between the local community and TCU.
“We are committed to improving the economy of Indian communities and working to create jobs to help increase incomes,” Guy said.
To find information about each TCU and the best fit, students can visit AIHEC or University Funds online.
“The students who attend them and TCU itself are very diverse,” Crazy Bull said. “While the focus tends to be on the place-based Indigenous educational experience, in this case the diversity of students is really good.”