Tohono O’odham Move Toward Accreditation

Feb 15th, 2003 | By | Category: 14-3: Your Heroes Are Not Our Heroes, Tribal College News

TOHONO O'ODHAM LOGOTohono O’odham Community College (TOCC) succeeded in taking two of the most important steps for a fledgling tribal college last fall. Following its September visit to the college in Sells, AZ, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA) evaluation team recommended candidacy status for accreditation. A final decision is expected soon from the NCA Higher Learning Commission.

In October, the college became the 35th member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) at the annual membership meeting. The board voted to accept the college as an “applicant” member, pending final action on its accreditation.

The Tohono O’odham Nation chartered the college in 1998, and classes began in 2000. Enrollment last spring was 156. The nation provided $13 million for the college’s first five years, primarily derived from casino revenues. Currently leasing office and classroom space, the tribal college is developing a plan for its permanent campus, which will require 30 acres and $32 million, according to Dr. Bob Martin, who was inaugurated in October 2001. Martin (Cherokee) has served as president of two other AIHEC colleges, Haskell Indian Nations University and Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute. He has a doctorate of education from the University of Kansas.

The college and the nation are known for their work fighting diabetes by emphasizing traditional foods, such as squash, saguaro fruit, tepary beans, choya buds, melons, and wild spinach. The college employs elders to help integrate appropriate Tohono O’odham Him:dag (way of life, culture), and every faculty and staff member takes seven hours of culture and language courses. Academic programs include associate degrees in general studies, early childhood education, child development, administrative and office support, Tohono O’odham Studies, and business. New associate degrees being implemented this year are in education and agriculture. Until it is accredited on its own, the college utilizes an agreement with Pima Community College to provide accreditation.

First started as a career center, the college has trade apprenticeship programs recognized by the state department of labor in carpentry, painting, facility maintenance, electrician, plumbing, and management information systems. After receiving a $175,000 grant from the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA), the college has launched a new program, Teaching for O’odham, which will develop an associate degree in education for special education teachers and assistants in BIA-operated schools within the nation. Board members are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree, and two of the current board members have doctorate degrees.

The college was created to address serious problems, including a 50% school drop out rate and diabetes. More than 50% of the tribal members suffer from Type II diabetes, more than 10 times the national average. Experts blame the shift from traditional desert food to a high-fat and high-starch diet.

With 2.8 million acres, the Tohono O’odham Nation has the second largest reservation in the United States, which is bigger than the state of Connecticut. There are 25,000 members,12,000 of whom live on the reservation in Arizona and 1,500 across the border in Mexico. For more information, see the college’s website <>.

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