A Tribal College is a Unique Type of Community College

By Peterson's Staff updated on Monday, January 28, 2013

Many community colleges provide low-cost, flexible education for a certain area or region, and tribal colleges are no different from other junior colleges in that respect. A tribal college serves the population on Native American reservations and the population surrounding the reservations.

A community college with a unique demographic

Although tribal colleges are located primarily on reservations, enrollment isn't limited to Native Americans. Their locations in areas far from urban development and other institutions of higher education place them in a unique role — one of providing a high-quality college education to reservation-based citizens as well as to residents of the often isolated areas surrounding the reservations. This is a crucial role in areas that often suffer from high poverty and unemployment rates.

With a typical student profile of a thirty-something single mother of two, this unique type of community college isn't providing an average college experience. Tribal colleges provide hope for the future through job training, skill development, and an education that promises better job opportunities and a better quality of life.

A junior college that preserves Native American traditions

Tribal colleges are different from other community colleges in that they not only provide an education, but also provide programs and curriculum designed to preserve the languages and cultures of Native Americans.

Many of these schools teach classes in a variety of Native American languages, or teach courses in a manner that caters to Native American culture — such as teaching the English, Latin, and Native American word for a plant in horticulture classes, for instance. Business courses offer specifics on tribal management, and class schedules are often flexed to accommodate Native American rituals and traditions.

Tribal colleges receive federal support
The Executive Order on Tribal Colleges and Universities is a federal mandate requiring all federal agencies to support tribal colleges through strategic planning and collaboration. First created in 1996, the order bolsters reservation development, higher education for Native Americans, and helps ensure that many would-be students in poor and isolated areas have access to quality education.

The order is especially important in light of the fact that tribal colleges get almost no financial support from local or state taxes, or from tribal casino revenues. They rely primarily on federal funding as well as private donations, although control of the schools themselves is through the tribes.

Tribal colleges provide key opportunities to further education
A tribal college offers high-quality education in many vocational programs and associate degree programs just as a traditional two-year college does. Most of the tribal colleges also offer bachelor's degrees in various areas, and a few of them offer master's programs as well.

The surge in popularity of these colleges, as well as the increase in funding due to efforts of the federal government have helped to increase the participation of Native Americans in a broader mission — offering as many people as possible opportunities to further their education and increase their quality of life.

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