Survey report says tribal colleges and universities offer unique approach to American Indian student success

American Indian College Fund — “Think Indian.” (Photo courtesy of the American Indian College Fund)

American Indian College Fund — “Think Indian.” (Photo courtesy of the American Indian College Fund)

Education has been heralded as the great equalizer, but today only 14 percent of Native Americans in the United States ages 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher — less than half of that of other groups.

The key to eliminating this disparity may be tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) — affordable, accredited, culturally-relevant higher education institutions chartered by tribes serving Native students on or near Indian reservations.

American Indian college graduates who attended tribal colleges and universities enjoy significant benefits over college students attending other academic institutions, according to a new American Indian College Fund and Gallup survey report titled ‘Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities.’

The report shows tribal college and university graduates are creating a unique and community-focused life after graduation, outpacing the efforts of graduates from mainstream academic institutions, as well as possible reasons for that, in the following ways:

Tribal college and university graduates are giving back to their communities. Seventy-four percent of tribal college and university graduates surveyed say they have forged careers serving their communities and societies.

More than half report a deep interest in the work they do in careers that serve their communities such as education, healthcare, social services and more. Perhaps because of the ability to do work that they find meaningful, more than half of tribal colleges and universities graduates report they are deeply interested in the work they do (53 percent) and half (50 percent) say they have the opportunity to do work that interests them, compared to 38 percent and 37 percent of college graduates nationally.

Tribal college and university graduates received greater support in college. Tribal college and university graduates (43 percent) are more than twice as likely as American Indian/Alaska Native graduates of non-tribal colleges and universities (21 percent) and college graduates nationally (18 percent) to recall experiencing three critical support measures in college: having a professor who cared about them as a person, having a professor who made them excited about learning and having a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams.

Tribal college and university graduates outpace non-tribal colleges and universities American Indian/Alaska Native graduates in all three measures, with the gap between tribal college and university and non-tribal college and university graduates the widest for having professors who cared about them as people (59 percent vs. 33 percent, respectively).

Tribal college and university graduates are more likely to be debt-free. Tribal colleges and universities graduates are more likely to state their education was worth the cost — 67 percent as opposed to 39 percent of college graduates nationally. Only three percent of tribal college and university graduates took student loans as compared to 19 percent of students nationally, leaving them debt free as they pursue their preferred careers after graduation. Lack of debt also has a positive impact on college graduates’ financial well-being and that of their families.

Tribal college and university graduates are thriving in all aspects of well-being. Tribal college and university graduates report nearly twice as much as graduates nationwide that they are thriving financially, socially and in their communities and careers.

Tribal college and university are geographically and culturally diverse but share common goals such as integrating cultural values and connection to land into curriculum and pedagogy while emphasizing community outreach and education that is rooted in tribal identity and practice. In 2017, over 11 percent of American Indian students studying at a U.S. two-or four-year public or private not-for-profit post-secondary institution attended one of the 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities.

“All of us who have worked with tribal colleges and universities since their founding in 1968 recognized that these place-based, culturally-rooted institutions transformed lives and communities,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. “All through the support of Strada Education Network and a partnership with Gallup, we are able to provide the data to back this up. Our graduates tell the story of our success as tribal institutions. More support for tribal colleges and universities would expand this transformative experience to more Native and rural citizens.”

The Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities survey report is the result of a survey of 5,000 American Indian College Fund scholars to gather information about the value of an education rooted in Native American values. The survey was funded by a grant to the American Indian College Fund by the Strada Education Network.

More information or to download a copy of the report is available by visiting www.collegefund.org.

Information provided by the American Indian College Fund via Indian Country Today

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