Yesterday we brought you a post from Kayla Yang-Best focused on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Today we have a post from Kyle Erickson of Blandin Foundation, who attended the same event and shares takeaways from the Tribal Colleges portion. Thank you Kyle!
Native Americans and African Americans have traveled a very different path through time and place in America. One area of shared experience for the two cultures is a history of governmental and societal policies and systems that have resulted in a largely inequitable educational experience for their young people.
Too often, these communities – and their aggregate educational outcomes – are viewed through the lens of an “achievement gap,” or some other well-intentioned but ultimately negative point of view. “Learning and Teaching with Fire: Lessons from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Tribal Colleges (TCUs)” provided a fresh perspective, sharing lessons of significant successes and best practices developed at these minority-serving institutions that can inform and improve education for students from any background.
Tribal College Movement Growing
According to Carrie Billy, director of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), the Tribal College movement has grown from one institution in 1968 to 37 colleges and universities today, comprising 75 campuses that cover 80% of Indian Country and serve nearly 90,000 learners through academic and extension courses. Half of enrolled Native Americans attending college today are at a TCU. With help from these institutions, the number of Native Americans who have earned a post-secondary certificate, diploma or degree has increased almost 250% over the last 20 years.
The list of TCUs includes four in Minnesota, located on the Leech Lake, Red Lake, White Earth, and Fond du Lac reservations. Billy identified significant areas of achievement at TCUs in Minnesota and across the country including:
- Place-based research that allows TCU students to learn while addressing local and regional problems ranging from diabetes treatment and prevention to aquifer management and alternative agriculture systems.
- Degree programs that meet community needs, including nursing, teacher education, and indigenous language studies.
- Creation of a comprehensive data reporting system (AIHEC AIMS) that ensures accountability to communities and funders, and provides a platform for continuous institutional improvement.
The best practices for student success outlined by Billy and other TCU panelists – proactive, “intrusive” academic advising; access to experiential learning and research opportunities with support from caring faculty; wraparound student support services; designation of a go-to staff or faculty person for each student – are a part of the comfortable, familial environment cultivated at TCUs to ease the transition to postsecondary academic and social life. This is especially crucial given the high percentage of tribal college students who are the first in their family to set foot on a college campus.
Overcoming the “High Risk” Label
Dr. Don Day, President of Leech Lake Tribal College, pointed out that these successes have been gained despite daunting challenges. Commonly identified barriers to postsecondary success include being a first-generation college student, coming from a low-income household, being part of a racial/ethnic minority group, receiving inadequate academic preparation in high school, and being a parent while attending college. Nearly all TCU students fall into one or more of the “high risk” categories, and it’s not uncommon for a student to fit all of them, yet these institutions and their students are finding a path to success.
The stories of growth and achievement despite long odds and inadequate funding caught the attention of many attendees including Sen. Patricia Torres-Ray, who called for a statewide conversation to learn more about how to better support the important role Minnesota’s tribal colleges play in our educational ecosystem. If Minnesota aims to take equity in education seriously, that conversation will be the starting point of a larger, deeper body of work that will benefit Native American and non-Native learners alike.
More material from the conference can be found on the Center for School Change website.