State of AIHEC and College Fund Presented

Aug 15th, 2002 | By | Category: 14-1: Honoring Our Students, Tribal College News

Carla Riding in Feathers of Haskell Indian Nations University was elected Ms. AIHEC at the annual AIHEC Conference. Nick Tilsen from Oglala Lakota College was elected Mr. AIHEC. Photo by Suzette Brewer, American Indian College Fund

Students, faculty and administrators from the 33 tribal colleges in the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) gathered in Rapid City, SD, last March to attend their 21st annual conference. The colleges in South Dakota hosted the conference.

AIHEC President Dr. James Shanley (president of Fort Peck Community College) presented the State of AIHEC address, and Rick Williams, executive director of the American Indian College Fund, presented the State of the College Fund. The College Fund is a separate non-profit organization created by AIHEC to raise money for the tribal colleges. AIHEC is the organization of 33 colleges based in Alexandra, VA, which was founded in 1973.

“The state of AIHEC is waste (good),” Shanley said. “Good but not very good. It has been a strange year.” Shanley mentioned the war on terrorism and asked for a moment of silence to remember two veterans of the tribal college movement who had died within the past year, Dr. Jack Barden and Jack Briggs.

Shanley predicted that the organization could grow from 33 to 45 tribal colleges in the next few years, which could dramatically reduce the pot of money available for their core, institutional funding. However, he said the colleges would welcome new colleges on reservations that are not presently served. “We’re not going to fight over this money. That is someone else’s way,” he said. While they will continue advocating for increases in funding, he said, “If we have to we will share.”

Shanley said the colleges are learning from their colleagues in New Zealand, the Maori people. “They base their education on language and culture and use them to give their students traditional values. This inspired us because that is the vision we have had for AIHEC.”

For the first time in the 29-year history of AIHEC, most of the tribal colleges are building their own buildings. The AIHEC board members and staff have worked with Congress to increase federal funding for facilities, and the American Indian College Fund has raised significant construction dollars for the colleges. The colleges also have access to new resources for working with pre-K-12 schools.

In his talk about the State of the American Indian College Fund, Rick Williams agreed that there are challenges ahead. He said that his organization would have to raise $60 million over the next couple of years to meet the basic needs of students.

Almost 20% of all Indians in higher education are attending the tribal colleges, according to Williams. While other colleges and universities are losing students, the student population at tribal colleges is growing by five percent a year, he said. “They are the fastest growing institutions in the country.”

Pointing to the tribal college presidents on the podium with him and elsewhere in the room, he said, “These are the people who changed the history of Indian education in America. …Tribal colleges and universities are the only places in America that foster Native intellect. If we forget how to think Indian, we will be white people.”  Speaking directly to the students, he said, “You, too, will change the history of Indian education.”

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