After enduring nearly 400 years of higher education efforts driven by religious indoctrination and forced assimilation, in 1968 Diné College opened its doors as the first Tribally controlled post-secondary institution, marking a new era of self-determination for Native American students. Since then, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) have grown to include 37 institutions, serving over 28,000 students and are actively working to revitalize Native languages and culture, promote Tribal sovereignty and further economic growth aligned with Tribal values in the communities they serve. These remarkable institutions often go unrecognized for their achievements, and most remain unjustly underfunded in spite of the fact that their work redefines the valuable impact that higher institutions can have within their local communities.
We hope to support the Tribal Colleges and Universities, their membership association, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), and their non-profit support organization, the American Indian College Fund (College Fund), by reframing the conversation and reminding critics that TCUs were not created to serve the same purpose as other higher education institutions. Rather, TCUs were created for the purpose of supporting Tribal Nation-building after Indigenous cultures endured generations of cultural and economic deterioration. This report offers an alternative story of success that looks beyond quantifiable measures to focus more deeply on how these schools meet this mission. We hope to draw additional attention to the many challenges that TCUs face, such as underfunding and operating in geographically remote areas, and outline the strategies they have employed to find success in spite of these challenges. Lastly, we make recommendations to help policy makers and institutional leaders support and strengthen these institutions and the students they serve.