The American Indian College Fund is excited to share that the U.S. Congress designated the week beginning February 28, 2021 as National Tribal Colleges and Universities Week. The College Fund serves the 35 accredited higher education institutions located on more than 70 campuses in 13 states across the nation, providing them with programmatic and infrastructure support.

Before the 1960s, if Native students wanted to attend college, they had to leave their communities. Higher education simply did not exist in Indian Country.

Born of the self-determination movement during the Civil Rights Era of the 1960s, Tribal Nations saw education as the key to creating a solid foundation for revitalizing their communities. They set out to create institutions to educate their citizens at home to meet the needs of their people and economies and manage the education, health, and well-being of their people—while also honoring their traditions, cultures, and languages.

The first tribal college was established by the Navajo Nation in 1968 (Navajo Community College, today known as Diné College) in Arizona. Other tribal nations soon followed suit, and a movement was born.

Today 16 of the 35 TCUs the College Fund supports offer bachelor’s degrees and five offer master’s degrees. All 35 offer certificate programs and associate degrees, bringing higher education to remote, rural areas where many of its students could not otherwise continue their educations after high school.

Today’s TCUs serve Native American students from more than 230 federally recognized Indian Tribes and are also open for enrollment to other students in their communities—providing students with an education in degrees as varied as engineering and counseling.

Our Native scholars graduate and go on to serve their communities, just as the founders envisioned. According to the Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities report of a Gallup survey conducted of TCU graduates in 2019, 74% percent of alumni surveyed forged careers serving their communities in careers in education, healthcare, social services, and more. Native people in these positions serve as role models, and better understand the unique needs of their community members.

Education is particularly important in creating a pipeline of health care workers, teachers, etc. in remote, rural areas on or near Indian reservations, where communities have a shortage of educated professionals. We see the importance of TCUs today in particular as the nation is wresting itself from the hold of a pandemic: American Indian College Fund data shows that 44% of American Indian College Fund scholars are majoring in science, technology, engineering, math, healthcare, or education fields, which are needed to provide community members with access to adequate health care. The Centers for Disease Control data shows death rates of COVID were 3.5 times the rates of other groups last year, proving the need for these educated professionals.

In addition to providing education to Native communities, TCUs also serve as centers for their community, providing libraries, computer labs, community centers to gather for ceremonies and fellowship, career counseling, tribal cultural archives, and much more.

We invite you to learn more about the 35 tribal colleges and universities we serve, the many ways Native students benefit from a TCU education, and if you are a student, we invite you to apply for a scholarship to attend the TCU of your choice!