Tribal Colleges Help Build Local Economies

May 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 11-4: All Our Children Are Special, Tribal College News

A new report shows that many of the nation’s 33 tribal colleges and universities are helping their communities to make significant advances in income, employment, and education. The colleges are utilizing innovative approaches that integrate business methods with tribal values, roles, and community structures. These methods are impacting not only reservations but entire regions and serve as models for many communities nationwide. The report, “Tribal College Contributions to Local Economic Development,” was prepared by The Institute for Higher Education Policy, a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit education research group, and the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which is comprised of the 33 American Indian tribal colleges and universities. They released the report at a special White House briefing on tribal colleges Feb. 10 in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities.

The report cites dramatically higher rates of median income, employment, and postgraduate education among many tribal college graduates as compared to other American Indians on reservations. From 1980 to 1990, for example, median income for females living on reservations with tribal colleges grew 49 percent faster than incomes for those living on similar reservations without tribal colleges. The unemployment rate for at least one set of recent tribal college graduates was 15 percent, as compared to 72 percent on the reservation overall. With such success, tribal colleges can help combat the often deplorable economic conditions in their local communities. The unemployment of American Indians living on reservations with tribal colleges averaged 45 percent in 1995, and the average per capita income was $4,665 in 1990. By comparison, the average unemployment rate in the U.S. was about 6 percent, and the average per capita income was $19,188.

By integrating tribal and business values, tribal communities define the success of their programs as much by levels of social renewal as by fiscal growth but appear to achieve both. These programs range from: an economic summit at Little Big Horn College in Montana; internet access for tribal businesses and farmers; banking and law enforcement career training at Fond du Lac Tribal College in Minnesota; environmental sciences at Diné College (Navajo Nation); engineering studies at Turtle Mountain Community College in North Dakota; and entrepreneurship training at Sitting Bull College and at Salish Kootenai College.

Tribal colleges nationwide have had immediate impacts on their communities and regions through the creation of jobs, services, and role models. More significant are their long-term impacts on: workforce and skills development; encouragement of entrepreneurship and small business growth; and promoting efficiency and environmentally sound practices in agriculture and natural resources. The conclusion calls for enhanced support for tribal colleges and their communities in order to maximize these areas of progress.

The report is the latest in a series produced under the Tribal College Research and Database Initiative, a collaborative effort between AIHEC and the American Indian College Fund. The initiative is supported in part by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Native Americans and the Pew Charitable Trusts. To download the report or order a printed copy, call the Institute for Higher Education Policy at 202/861-8223 or go to the AIHEC website <> and click on “research.”

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