Tribal colleges and universities help Native Americans succeed in higher education through culturally relevant programming and support

Generations of Native Americans have been left behind in terms of higher education enrollment and completion, but students who attend two-year tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are four times more likely to eventually earn a bachelor’s degree, reports Diverse Issues in Higher Education.

TCUs provide Native American students—many of whom are first-generation and only 10 percent of whom had received a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2016, compared with 43 percent of white students—specific resources that are not usually available at larger predominantly white institutions, including an emphasis on Native American values, tribal languages, and tribal history.

“Not only is their course content relevant, but it also is taught in a way that empowers students,” writes Rachel E. Bryan, a research assistant at the Center for Minority Serving Institutions at the University of Pennsylvania.

For students interested in transferring to a four-year institution, two years at a TCU can provide a helpful transitional experience, giving the students a chance  to “adjust to the academic environment of post-secondary education before having to adjust to the social environment of a mainstream institution,” Bryan writes. This support may include a “follow-through mentor,” who provides support not only during a student’s time at a TCU but throughout the transfer process and beyond.

How mainstream institutions can better support Native American students

Although most predominantly white institutions can’t replicate the specialized attention provided by a TCU, they can be more attuned to the diversity of experience among first-generation students and develop partnerships with TCUs to support Native American students’ transition, Bryan writes.

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