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New Tribal College Will Be Major Milestone for San Carlos Apache

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The establishment of San Carlos Apache Tribal College will stand out as a major milestone in the tribe’s history and in people’s lives, said Chairman Terry Rambler.

On August 11, the tribal council approved the articles of incorporation and bylaws for the proposed college and is now putting together a board of directors and a board of regents, with the hope of opening the school’s doors in August 2015.

The college has a fivefold purpose, explains Rambler: A new hospital is being built to replace the 50-year-old facility now on the reservation. When it opens it will bring 485 jobs. On the education front, there is one school district on the reservation with another one coming soon and two nearby. The tribe has one casino and is planning a second. And it is considering getting back into agriculture and using its water rights.

“We want to provide employment opportunities on our lands for our people. The bottom line is that the tribal college will prepare people for the jobs that are already on the reservation and the ones that are coming,” Rambler said.

The fifth purpose is to preserve the Apache language for the tribe’s 15,300 members. “We have an elders advisory council. They and other elders say retaining our language is a priority. We hope the college will be a driving force in accomplishing that,” he says.

Rambler took office in December 2010 and had been on the tribal council for six years prior. “From the time I was on the council, this had been a vision for the tribe and now things have fallen into place, with Michael Crow serving as president of Arizona State University,” one of the collaborative partners in this endeavor, with whom the tribe signed an MOU in June. The tribe is also working with Eastern Arizona College to develop curriculum.

Arizona State University has 2,000 American Indian students and a long history of commitment to the 22 tribes in Arizona that goes back at least to the founding of Navajo Community College (now Diné College, the first tribally-controlled community college in the U.S.) in the 1960s. ASU President Michael M. Crow said in a statement when the MOU was signed, “ASU has one of the largest populations of Native American students of any college or university in the country, and we are enriched by the presence of our Native students, faculty and staff.”

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Arizona State University has 2,000 American Indian students and a long history of commitment to the 22 tribes in Arizona that goes back at least to the founding of Navajo Community College (now Diné College, the first tribally-controlled community college in the U.S.) in the 1960s.

At the tribe’s request, ASU is providing advisers for the project, among them John Tippeconnic, Comanche, ASU professor and director of American Indian Studies. “One of the key elements in starting a tribal college is accreditation,” Tippeconnic, a founder of Comanche Nation College in Oklahoma, said. “That’s where I think we at ASU can assist them. The tribe is also thinking about building a campus and facilities to house the tribal college. That’s always a challenge and that's another place where we can help.”

Developing curriculum is another challenge, says Marie Hesse, ASU vice provost for academic partnerships, who has had extensive experience in the 11-college Maricopa Community College System, including serving as president of Chandler-Gilbert Community College. New colleges need to start with a narrow focus, she explains, as the school builds up a student body and faculty. At Chandler-Gilbert, the focus was on courses included in the Arizona General Education Curriculum. “You can’t begin with everything, so you have to prioritize as to what are the most important things. We couldn’t offer a broad band of courses, but we could offer those that would help a student get through that common core of general studies,” she said.

Rambler said the San Carlos Apache Tribal College will offer a 2-year AA degree, with the expectation that many students will go on to earn BA at a four-year college.

In order for that to happen, said Hesse, the credits earned at the tribal college must be transferable to a four-year college or university, and that’s another area where the tribe has asked for her assistance. It is also important, she said, that students understand what credits earned at a tribal college will count toward their degree at a four-year college. “We tell students, begin at the end of the line. So if they know what their end goal is—I want an engineering degree through the School of Engineering or I want a AIS degree through the college of liberal arts, then we can prescribe the list of courses that they could be taking that will both transfer and that will apply to their program of study.”

Jacob Moore, Tohono O’odham Nation, tribal relations coordinator in ASU’s Office of Public Affairs, notes that the MOU included a range of collaborative possibilities in addition to the college. “Much of the agreement is about supporting the idea of locally available higher educational opportunities and promoting healthy lifestyles, youth leadership and activities that support academic achievement and community civic involvement on the reservation.”

Rambler wants to thank ASU for offering to help get the tribal college off the ground. “After a meetings of the Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, President Crow invited us to meet with him and five or six of our tribal council members and I did. That meeting really got me thinking about our vision [for a tribal college]. I put it on the table before the council. That was the beginning of it and it got things started.”

Eduardo Pagan, of Yaqui descent, Bob Stump Endowed Professor of History and ASU vice provost for academic excellence and diversity, signed the MOU on behalf of Crow. “Michael Crow believes very strongly that as a public institution whose mandate is to serve the people of Arizona we should be serving the people of Arizona. That sounds fairly simple when you say it that way, but historically universities, public universities, have not operated with that literal understanding of the mandate of a public educational facility—to meet the needs of the people in your area or your state and of course in Arizona that very much means part of our American Indian population,” he said.