Accountability Commitment Aids Equity Fight

Nov 15th, 2009 | By | Category: 21-2: K-12 Education, Winter 2009
By Carrie Billy, J.D.

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D.

Accountability. Transparency. Fiscal responsibility. These are important components of the “American Graduation Initiative,” President Obama’s strategic goal to restore the United States to first in the world for college completion by 2020. This initiative includes several new programs focused on community colleges.

As institutions of higher education closely connected to their communities, tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) stand to benefit from the president’s commitment to community-based education. But only if our institutions are equitably included in the programs.

As typically happens, TCUs were originally excluded from most of the proposed new programs, with the exception of some wide-reaching accountability provisions. Disregarding tribal sovereignty, these onerous provisions would require that TCUs participate in broad state-controlled student data collection systems. However, there is no guarantee that our colleges would be eligible for any part of the billions of dollars that would be available to the states and their institutions of higher education.

TCUs, like private non-profit institutions of higher education, are not chartered by state governments. Rather, these groups of institutions have governance structures independent of the states. Federally-recognized Indian tribes, which have a government-to-government relationship with the federal government, issue the institutional charters for the TCUs.

Since legislation embodying the president’s goals was first introduced on a “fast-track” in the Congress, AIHEC has been working diligently to ensure that the principle of tribal sovereignty is recognized and respected and that TCUs are equitably included in the new initiatives.

So far, we seem to have had some success. One reason for our success may be the TCUs’ collective commitment to accountability, transparency, and fiscal responsibility to our communities, our students, and our tribes, as well as to the federal government and other funders.

Our commitment to accountability and responsibility is rooted in the principle of tribal sovereignty and our intrinsic understanding of the special relationship between our people and the federal government.

In 2004, with generous support from the Lumina Foundation, the TCUs developed the landmark AIHEC American Indian Measures of Success Initiative, a comprehensive data collection system to help tell our stories.

The foundation of AIHEC-AIMS is a set of 116 indicators developed by tribal colleges for tribal colleges and relevant to tribal colleges, our communities, and our funders. The indicators focus on missions of the tribal colleges, our service to community, and our support of students.

AIHEC recently published our third AIHEC-AIMS report. We recommend it to you, and urge you to share in the celebration of the Tribal College Movement. You will find the AIHEC-AIMS Fact Book at under Resources/Reports.

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