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What to Know About Tribal Colleges & Universities

Last updated August 17, 2023

What to Know About Tribal Colleges & Universities

There are many factors to consider when choosing the right college. Logistical considerations like offered majors, school location, and campus size can help you narrow down your decision - but another important component to consider when choosing a college is your connection to the school’s culture.

For many students, particularly those that are Black and Brown, race and culture play a huge part in their everyday lives and how they see the world. When you’re 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 schools are meant to do exactly that. Here’s a breakdown of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) in the U.S. - what they are, why they matter, and more.

Image of an 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 Native American reservation lands. There are currently 35 accredited TCUs in 14 states across the country. Student populations at TCUs are pretty small - many have under 1,000 students enrolled. While many TCUs are two-year colleges that allow students to receive their Associate’s degrees, others have Bachelor’s, Master's, and certificate programs.

Why were TCUs formed? Why are they important?

TCUs were created specifically for Native American 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 American students, but to all of higher education in the U.S. While they provide a high-quality college education 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 had been historically suppressed and 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 or submit a Certificate Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) for consideration. Be sure to have this proof prepared when applying for financial aid.

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 to 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 to Native students in the Fall of 2022.

Have any questions about attending a Tribal College or University, financial aid, or college applications? 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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