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TCU Timeline

A Modern History Timeline of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)

American Indian education has come a long way since the federal government established boarding schools to assimilate American Indians. Today there are 34 fully accredited tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) that educate both the minds and spirits of Native students.

These schools receive some federal funding as a result of the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978, which authorized the federal government to assist community colleges on reservations and controlled by the tribes.


At the time that legislation passed, TCUs had been in existence for nine years. Diné College, founded as Navajo Community College, was the first tribal college, founded in 1968 by the Navajo nation to provide an education and cultural grounding for its students.

The American Indian College Fund (the Fund) was created in 1989 by the tribal colleges and universities to raise money for scholarships and tribal college support. It helps to fund the 34 TCUs, educating the mind and spirit.

Tribal colleges have three basic criteria: they must be tribally chartered, a majority of their board members must be American Indians, and the majority of students (51%) enrolled must be American Indian citizens.

In addition to providing a higher education, TCUs also provide necessary services to American Indian communities such as diabetes education and prevention, HIV education, daycare and health centers, libraries, computer centers, indigenous research, language preservation classes, community activities, and lifelong learning programs.

Diné College and five of the first TCUs founded the American Indian Higher Education Consortium to maintain common standards of quality in American Indian education; support the development of new tribally controlled colleges; promote and assist in developing legislation to support American Indian higher education; and encourage greater participation by American Indians in the development of higher education policy.

In 1994, Congress provided Land Grant status for tribal colleges and universities in U.S. agricultural legislation. This allowed for equity funding, access to research and extension programs, and other infrastructure grants and loans offered by federal agencies.

Despite federal recognition and funding and the progress of Indian education, TCUs remain the most poorly funded higher education institutions in the country.

In order to keep the dream of a higher education affordable, TCUs keep tuition low for their students. Even so, only 5% or fewer of TCU students can afford to attend college without financial assistance. The average cost of attendance at a TCU in 2012-13 was approximately $14,566 per year (including room, board, books, and tuition averaged across institutions) while the average per capita income for reservations is $15,671 (U.S. Census Bureau 2010) per year. More than 28.4% of American Indians live below the poverty line, compared to the national poverty rate of 15.3% (U.S. Census Bureau 2010). The American Indian College Fund helps fill the gap by awarding scholarships.


Despite the American Indian College Fund's help, the demand is greater than the supply of scholarship dollars due to high poverty rates, a young American Indian population, and the growing number of Native students seeking to enter college for a better life. The number of Natives enrolled in colleges and universities has more than doubled in the past 30 years and the number of degrees they earned has doubled in 25 years.

The American Indian College Fund's goal is to support every Native student who dreams of earning a college education. The need for your support is greater than ever to ensure that Native students have a chance at a brighter future.