Tribal Colleges

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TRIBAL COLLEGES. The Tribal College and University (TCU) movement was founded in the late 1960s to counterbalance the near eradication of all things American Indian within the educational system of the United States. TCUs have developed a philosophy that protects and enhances tribal cultures while embracing much of modern education. They understood that, to enhance American Indian communities, students must be knowledgeable about their own cultures and prepared to survive in the non-Indian world. Navajo Community College (Diné College), founded in 1968, was the first institution to develop the tribal college philosophy. Other communities have followed this blueprint when founding their own institutions.

Each TCU has been chartered by its respective tribal government and is governed by a local board of regents. TCUs adhere closely to their mission statements as they develop curriculum and work closely with regional accreditation agencies. TCUs within the United States serve approximately 25,000 students; individual school enrollments range from 50 to 4,500 students. Although TCU students represent many racial and social backgrounds, the majority at each college comes from the local tribe or tribes. The TCU students' average age is twenty-seven, and a majority of students are female and live below the poverty line; most are first-generation college students.

TCUs interact with the federal government in much the same way as state institutions interact with state governments. The passage of Public Law 95-471, the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act, in 1978 provided the financial foundation for TCUs. TCUs gained land grant status in 1994 with the passage of the Equity in Education Land Grant Status Act, which in turn strengthened the linkages between TCUs and other land grant institutions. In 1996, an executive order was issued making federal systems more accessible to TCUs and encouraging partnerships with the private sector. Private philanthropic foundations have been a source of support to the TCUs since their beginnings, contributing importantly to the growth of the TCUs and their national institutions, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) and the American Indian College Fund (AICF). The AIHEC was founded by the presidents of the first six tribal colleges in 1972. By 2002, the AIHEC had grown to represent more than thirty tribal colleges in the United States and Canada. Its mission is to support the work of the tribal colleges and the national movement of American Indian self-determination. The AICF was created by the tribal colleges in 1989. Its mission is to raise funds from individuals, foundations, and corporations to build an endowment for the support of the colleges and student scholarships.

The treaty relationship between the United States and Indian tribes assures the future of the TCUs, which have a major role in preparing students to be the next leaders for American Indian nations. TCUs have also become role models for the indigenous peoples of the world who would emulate what has been accomplished by the TCU movement in the United States.


Stein, Wayne J. Tribally Controlled Colleges: Making Good Medicine. New York: Peter Lang, 1992.

St. Pierre, Nate, and Wayne J. Stein. Tribally Controlled Colleges: Facts in Brief. Bozeman: Montana State University 1997.

Wayne J.Stein

See alsoEducation, Indian .

DinÉ College Mission

To strengthen personal foundation for responsible learning and living consistent with Sa'ah Naaghháí Bik'en Hózhóón.

To prepare students for careers and further studies.

To promote and perpetuate Navajo language and culture.

To provide community services and research.