Forty years of tribal colleges


ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Tribal colleges and universities continued to show strength and growth in 2008, which happened to be the 40th anniversary of the movement to educate students in a uniquely Native American higher education setting.

As Indian Country Today reported in May, the Navajo Nation created the first TCU, known as Dine College, in 1968. Located on the Navajo reservation, the college was established specifically to provide convenient access to quality and culturally relevant higher education to tribal members.

Since that birth year, 36 tribal colleges and universities in the U.S. now make up the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. The group also contains one tribal college located in Canada. The institutions serve more than 250 American Indian nations from every geographic region in the United States.

Depending on the institution, tribal colleges offer coursework for associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees, along with certificate programs and continuing education classes. Overall, TCUs offer degrees and certificates in more than 600 majors. One of their main goals is to preserve Native language and culture.

Leadership changes played a big role behind the scenes at AIHEC this year. After more than seven years serving as executive director of the organization, Gerald E. Gipp retired as president of AIHEC in June.

“I consider it a privilege to have served the tribal colleges and universities and the AIHEC board of directors over the past seven years,” Gipp said in a statement. “However, after 46 years of public service, I feel that it is time for me to give greater focus to my family and other outside interests. I believe my time has arrived to step aside; it is time for new leadership to take on the ongoing challenge of moving the tribal college movement forward at the national level.”

Carrie L. Billy, a longtime Navajo higher education expert, took over for Gipp in June. She joined the AIHEC staff for the second time in 2001, as deputy director and director of STEM development, having served as executive director of the first White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities that was established by President Bill Clinton.

Under Billy’s leadership, the initial WHITCU office created a number of new programs and initiatives within a variety of federal departments and agencies. The programs continue to help TCUs build their overall capacity, including basic infrastructure, to expand programs and services to their students and their communities.

“Carrie already knows what is needed for a reservation-based college to thrive” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, chair of AIHEC’s board of directors at the time of Billy’s appointment. “I am very excited to have Carrie as the new president of AIHEC. She has a deep understanding of the mission of tribal colleges and she is very creative making her an exceptionally effective advocate for tribal colleges and the AIHEC organization.”

AIHEC elected David E. Yarlott Jr. as chair of its board of directors at the organization’s fall meeting in September. A member of the Crow Tribe, Yarlott is also a graduate of Little Big Horn College and has served as president of the college since 2002.

In September, ICT reported that the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded $5 million in grants to seven tribal colleges. HUD’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program money is planned to be used in a variety of ways by the institutions, including the building of a bookstore and student center, and refurbishing student housing and a school cafeteria.

The seven schools are:

• Tohono O’odham Community College, Sells, Ariz.: $750,000

• Bay Mills Community College, Brimley, Mich.: $504,800

• Salish Kootenai College, Pablo, Mont.: $750,000

• United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, N.D.: $745,200

• Northwest Indian College, Bellingham, Wash.: $750,000

• College of Menominee Nation, Keshena, Wis.: $750,000

• Institute of American Arts, Santa Fe, N.M.: $750,000

The 2008 TCUP awards represented a large increase over 2007 when HUD awarded $2.8 million to five tribal colleges.