AIHEC Going Strong After 30 Years

Nov 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-2: American Indian Higher Education Consortium 30th Anniversary
By Gerald E. Gipp, Ph.D. Executive Director, American Indian Higher Education Consortium
GERALD GIPP

Gerald E. Gipp

Thirty years ago, the leaders of the six fledgling tribal colleges gathered to discuss the future of their colleges and how they might keep their doors open for a few hundred students. These mavericks of their time, along with a handful of others, committed their professional careers to educating American Indian youth, as they – for the first time in history – sought to develop and control the destiny of their institutions. They resolved that they would stand together in their pursuit. As the colleges grew, they faced numerous challenges that could have divided them; yet, they insisted that a unified voice would serve as the hallmark of their vision, to offer culturally relevant higher education — an approach unlike any other in the history of American education.

To achieve this goal, they created the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) to serve as their unified voice in their quest to foster a nationwide movement and promote their collective vision.  Despite overwhelming skepticism, during the 1970s that group of educators worked diligently to successfully advocate for passage of the Tribally Controlled Community College Act, which allowed others to join the movement.  In the 1980s, with added leadership among their ranks, the AIHEC Board of Directors successfully entered the philanthropic arena by creating the American Indian College Fund to provide funding for student scholarships and other special initiatives.

In the 1990s, the AIHEC leadership successfully advocated for land grant status and the issuing of an Executive Order that dramatically increased federal funding. Among the results, tribal colleges are providing leadership at the K-12 level in systemic reform of mathematics, science, engineering, and information technology.  And finally, through the generosity of private funding, AIHEC purchased their current office building in Alexandria, VA.  In the 21st Century, there are greater opportunities for growth into the vocational and technological fields; into graduate level programs; into the professional fields of medicine, law, and engineering among others. The prospects for international and cultural exchanges are more exciting than ever before.

The AIHEC colleges are a success story, growing to 33 colleges and universities in 12 states with more developing throughout the country.  They educate some 30,000 full- and part-time students from over 250 federally recognized tribes, yet they are the most under-funded institutions of higher education in America.  Despite this struggle, they have never lost sight of their tribal cultures and its appropriate role in the learning environment.

As we strengthen our tribal college infrastructures, it is imperative that we continue to speak with a unified voice, to develop new schools, and educate the leaders of tomorrow. This anniversary issue of the Tribal College Journal is a tribute to our founders and current presidents.

Together, we can help tens of thousands of American Indian students realize their hopes and dreams, for they represent not only the bright light of hope in the skies over Indian Country; but as our country struggles to meet the challenges of our modern world, they are the bright light of hope in the skies over America.

 

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