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Tribal Colleges and Universities: What You Need to Know | Education

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According to recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, Native American and Alaska Native students, who have the lowest college-going rates of any racial group, face many obstacles when trying to earn a degree. One is affordability.

According to U.S. Census data, 25.4% of people who identified as Native Americans and Alaska Natives in 2018 lived in poverty, the highest of any population. From 2015 to 2019, the median annual household income for Native American and Alaska Native households was $43,825, below the average for all groups except Black households.

Meanwhile, the average in-state tuition price for ranked public colleges was $10,388 in 2021-2022, while private school tuition for that year averaged $38,185, according to U.S. News ranking data. was.

Many native students live in rural areas and often face transportation problems and lack of reliable broadband. According to the Federal Communications Commission, about 60% of people living on tribal lands had fixed high-speed internet access in 2018, compared with 65% of rural Americans and 97% of urban Americans. .

First established in 1968, the tribal colleges and universities, also known as TCUs, aim to create economic opportunities on the reservation by giving native students the opportunity to earn a degree close to home at low cost. and

What is a tribal college or university?

These public institutions of higher learning are federally recognized Indian tribes or federally accredited, and have large numbers of Native American or Alaskan Native students.

“One of the great things about Tribal College is that you get a culturally well-rounded education and you can complete the program debt-free,” said Carey Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. increase.

Although designed to meet the needs of native students and local bookings, most of TCU is open to all students. According to NCES data, TCU enrolled just over 15,200 students in 2020, with 79.1% Native American or Alaskan Native, 14.6% White, and nearly 2% Hispanic. Black and Asian students each made up less than 1% of her student population.

How many tribal colleges and universities are there?

AIHEC recognizes 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities funded through the Federal Tribal Management Colleges and Universities Support Act of 1978 across 14 states. Many TCUs are his two-year institutions, but there is a mix of schools offering certificates, associate degrees, bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees, including some technical colleges.

According to the American Indian College Fund, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to native students, Montana has the most TCUs, with seven, followed by North Dakota with five. Most are in the Southwest and Plains regions, but states such as Alaska, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Washington each have only one TCU. There is no TCU on the East Coast.

Reasons to Attend a Tribal College or University

Sherrill Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, says that native students often feel they belong on college campuses because they are not often reflected in curricula and faculty outside of TCU. It states that it can be difficult to find consciousness.

According to recent NCES data, less than 1% of full-time faculty members at non-TCU institutions identified as Native American or Alaska Native in 2020. But 30% to 40% of TCU’s faculty are natives and come from the community, says Crazy Bull.

The TCU curriculum is based on the culture, traditions, spirituality and language of the charter tribes.

“The educational experience is taught from a tribal worldview that resonates with students,” says Billy. related to strengthening oneself as a member of the

For example, the College of Menominee Nation in Wisconsin has courses on topics such as Native American culture, the Menominee language, minority women in literature, and indigenous cinema.

Elmer Guy, president of Navajo Tech University in New Mexico, said many of India’s leaders were “concerned about the loss of language and culture.” That’s why Navajo Tech offers degrees in Dineh Language, Culture and Leadership.

“We are training professionals to be able to teach languages ​​and cultures in schools,” says Guy. “And we believe language and culture matter, and we are trying to create opportunities for people to make a living with that knowledge.”

Many TCUs offer wraparound services such as tutoring, service learning, child care, food pantries, and financial aid support to help transition from high school to college. Other support services are based on cultural activities, ceremonies and spirituality, Billy says.

“One college student in the tribe said, ‘We start with drums every week and end with pipes every week,'” adds Billy. “This is something you don’t see in a regular university. It supports your identity as a native.”

Affordability is a major barrier to college education for many native students, so recent NCES data showed that 87% were eligible for financial aid in 2015-2016, and the average grant received was $ 10,750. TCU typically offers low-cost tuition. According to AIHEC, the average cost of tuition and fees at TCU in 2021-2022 was $3,744.

“They’re really trying to set tuition fees that are affordable for students so that they can attend and complete programs that lead to employment,” Billy says.

Some TCUs, such as Dine College in Arizona, have begun offering tuition discounts due to the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic, despite facing chronic challenges of lack of funding. rice field. Returning full-time students in Spring 2022 in good standing, meaning maintaining a GPA of at least 2.0, received free tuition in Spring 2022. The first-time full-time student was eligible for her 50% discount on tuition and housing in Fall 2021.

Many scholarships are also available through TCU and local non-profit organizations.

“Many students are first generation and don’t necessarily understand what it takes to apply for financial aid or scholarships,” says Crazy Bull. She encourages students to refer to her College Fund website for a running list of available scholarships and tips on how to apply.

Most TCUs are located on or near reservations, so many students do not have to travel far to complete their degree. The proximity also enables partnerships with local communities and TCU.

“We are looking to improve the economy of Indian communities and create jobs to bring in income,” says Guy.

To find information about each TCU and the best location, students can go online to AIHEC or College Fund.

“The students who attend TCU and TCU itself are very diverse,” says Crazy Bull. “Often the focus is the location-based Indigenous educational experience, but the diversity of students in that context is really good.”