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What to Know About Tribal Colleges & Universities

Last updated May 15, 2024

When considering where to attend college, it’s important to have options that make you feel like you can be yourself while having your traditions and perspectives valued. For Native American students, Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) can do exactly that. We share what you should know about TCUs in the U.S.

Empty college lecture hall - What to Know About Tribal Colleges & Universities

What is a Tribal College and/or University?

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are schools either on or near federal Indian reservations. There are currently 35 accredited TCUs in 15 states across the country. While many TCUs are two-year colleges where students can receive an associate degee, other's have bachelor’s, master's, and certificate programs.

Why were TCUs established? Why are they important?

TCUs were created specifically for Native students, who had traditionally been pushed out of or excluded altogether from higher education. The first TCU, established in 1968, was Diné College on the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

TCUs are essential not only to Native students, but to all of higher education in the U.S. While they provide high-quality college educations to students of all races and ethnicities, TCUs are important because they specifically create space to practice and honor Native American traditions, languages, and history– things that were historically suppressed or eliminated in higher education. TCUs intentionally make space for Native students who want to receive a degree, enrich their knowledge about their culture, and meet other students who share some of their experiences and values.

Frequently asked questions about TCUs

Can I attend a TCU if I’m not Native?

Yes! TCUs receive federal funding, so they’re open to all applicants, regardless of race or tribal affiliation.

How does financial aid work at a TCU?

The first step to receiving financial aid at any college or university, including TCUs, is to complete the FAFSA. All forms of financial aid, including scholarships, grants, and loans, are only awarded to students who have filed their FAFSA.

Organizations offering scholarships to Native students will most likely require applicants to prove that they’re a member of a federally recognized tribe and/or submit a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) for consideration. 

Where can I find scholarships for Native students?

Some organizations offer scholarships specifically for Native American and Alaska Native college students, like the American Indian College Fund, the Association on American Indian Affairs, and Catching the Dream.

Can Native students attend college for free?

More and more schools across the country have begun to make tuition free for Native students. Native students can now attend college for free in Arizona, Montana and Michigan. For example, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona are examples of schools who offer this. Additionally, The University of California system, the largest college system in the country, also started offering free tuition for Native students in the fall of 2022.

Have any questions about attending a Tribal College or University? Text us! Send #Hello to 33-55-77, or if you're using a mobile device, click here to have the text message set up for you!

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