Tribal Colleges Research Paper Starter

Tribal Colleges

Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), or tribally controlled colleges, were founded to advance the higher education of American Indians, or Native Americans. Unlike past institutions developed to educate American Indians, TCUs do not strive toward assimilation but rather seek to preserve and support tribal culture and traditions (AIHEC, 1999; Fann, 2002). The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was established to promote the development of new TCUs and support the work of established TCUs. Originally created as two-year institutions, TCUs are believed to represent an important phase of the community college phenomenon as well (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997).

Keywords American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC); American Indians; Articulation Agreements; Assimilation; Community College; First-Generation Students; Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP); Mainstream; Minority; Native American Education; Normal School; Non-Beneficiary Students; Tribal Colleges & Universities (TCU's); Tribally Controlled Colleges (TCC's)

Higher Education: Tribal Colleges


Why Tribal Colleges

According to the Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP), an economic and social gap formed between American Indians and mainstream society soon after the first white settlers arrived in North America (IHEP, 2007). IHEP (2007) asserts that "access to quality education in general, and higher education in particular, is key to closing the economic and social gap" (p. 1). Yet, in general, the educational attainment of American Indians runs behind that of the general U.S. population. For instance, 42 percent of American Indians were enrolled in some form of higher education in 2004, as compared to 53 percent of students nationally (IHEP, 2007).

IHEP (2007) also stresses that it is essential that higher education opportunities be relevant to the American Indian cultural context. As such, TCUs serve an important purpose because mainstream higher education institutions tend to overlook the traditions, pedagogical approaches, and measures of success of American Indians (IHEP, 2007). Likewise, Tippeconnic (1999) argued that because of the history of assimilation linked to the education of American Indians in the United States, TCUs are necessary in order to "reclaim and strengthen the use of Native languages and cultures in schools and communities,” and thus “ensuring a strong future for all Indian people" (p. 34). IHEP (2007) offered that American Indian higher education is linked to "dramatic benefits to both individual American Indians and the nation as a whole, including higher rates of employment, less reliance on public assistance, increased levels of health, and a greater sense of civic responsibility" (p. 3).

In 2012 the World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium founded the World Indigenous Nations University (WINU), granting four doctoral degrees the same year. WINU is “the first indigenous international degree granting global institution that holds in its charter the articles of the UN [United Nations] Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (World Indigenous Nations Higher Education Consortium, 2013).

History of American Indian Higher Education

McClellan, Tippeconnic Fox, and Lowe (2005) summarized the three historical periods of Native American higher education, which include the colonial, the federal, and the self-determination periods. Little was done to advance the higher education of Native people during the colonial period. Only four Native students had graduated from colonial colleges up to the time of the Revolutionary War (McClellan et al., 2005). Aside from the failings of the colonial colleges to whole-heartedly pursue the education of Native students, it is also thought that Native Americans may have viewed the type of education the colleges offered as holding little value to them (McClellan et al., 2005).

During the federal period, which began after the American Revolution when Native tribes and the federal government entered into treaty relationships, little was again provided in the way of higher education for Native Americans (McClellan et al., 2005). While missionary and federally operated schools were supported with tribal monies acquired through land sale treaties, what higher education was offered focused mainly on technical education, and the general goals of the time were to Christianize, acculturate, and assimilate Native people (Beck, 1995; McClellan et al., 2005). Beck (1995) indicated,

The day schools and boarding schools run by federal government and church missions beginning in the treaty period and extending well into the twentieth century did little to encourage Indians to pursue higher education, although their purposes were largely to force assimilation and to destroy Indian children's connections to their own cultures (p. 19).

Although not a true college, the Carlisle Indian School, which was founded in 1879, has an important place in history as the first industrial school for American Indians (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). As noted, the type of training at such schools emphasized assimilation of American Indian youth into white civilization (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997). The history of the Carlisle Indian School is told through its football team, which played Ivy League colleges like Harvard, in a text published in 2007 by Sally Jenkins (The Real All Americans: The Team That Changed a Game, a People, a Nation.

Scholars have debated when the final period, the self-determination period, began (McClellan et al., 2005). However, it was during the 1960s that the federal government finally began to pursue policies of self-determination for Native Americans (Beck, 1995; McClellan et al., 2005). The American Indian self-determination movement was fueled by political and social policies leading up to the time (Pavel et al., 1998). Before the self-determination movement of the 1960s, American Indian higher education was characterized by "compulsory Western methods of learning, recurring attempts to eradicate tribal culture, and high dropout rates by American Indian students at mainstream institutions" (AIHEC, 1999, p. A-2). TCUs were conceived to "support efforts for Indian self-determination and strengthen tribal culture without assimilation" (Fann, 2002, p. 2). Until the 1960s, Bacone College (originally founded as Indian University in 1880) was the only primarily Indian college in the United States (Beck, 1995). It was a private school run by Baptists (Beck, 1995). However, a state normal school to train Indians to teach was also founded in 1887 and became Pembroke State College (Beck, 1995). In 1954 it opened its doors to non-Indians after segregation in public schools became illegal (Beck, 1995). Aside from the few other colleges and universities Indian students attended, these two schools for Indians were largely the providers of higher education for American Indians into the twentieth century (Beck, 1995). At the same time, a congressional committee studying the state of Indian education in the late 1960s found the quality of the education American Indians received to be sorely lacking (Beck, 1995). For instance, among those Indian students who were eventually able to attend college, about 97 percent dropped out at that time (Beck, 1995).

The first TCU was Navajo Community College, which was founded in Arizona in 1968 by the Dine organization (O'Laughlin, 2002). It is now known as Diné College (AIHEC, 1999). Once Navajo Community College was formed, other tribes were inspired to found and charter their own colleges (Pavel et al., 1998). Beck (1995) noted that the founding of the tribal community college system "has had broad-reaching effect in Indian country and has gained federal financial as well as tribal support" (p. 23). TCUs and other tribally controlled schools are actually rooted in the schools established by the Cherokee and Choctaw tribes in the nineteenth century, which taught both in English and the tribes' native languages (Tippeconnic, 1999). These schools were successful but were closed by the federal government, which favored a policy of assimilation (Tippeconnic, 1999). It was not until 1975 that Congress actually passed the Indian Self-Determination Act and the Education Assistance Act (Pavel et al., 1998).

McClellan et al. (2005) asserted that the tribal college movement was "the single most significant development in the era of self-determination in Native American higher education" (p. 11). Regarding self-determination, Tippeconnic (1999) explained that because they do not fall under state jurisdiction due to their status as sovereign bodies, tribal governments have the right to make decisions about how to educate their tribal members. Begun primarily as two-year institutions, the development of tribal institutions was "an important phase of the community college phenomenon" (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997, p. 420). By the 1990s the institutions were offering instruction in fields like nursing, social work, business administration, and education, and had awarded more than three thousand associate in arts degrees each year (Brubacher & Rudy, 1997).

Further Insights


(The entire section is 4056 words.)