New Report Explores How Tribal Colleges and Universities Preserve Indigenous Culture and Educate Students

This report recognizes the achievements of Tribal Colleges and Universities and explains the value and impact these institutions have within their local communities.                     

Philadelphia, August 28, 2015—The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions (CMSI) has published an informative new report about Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). The report, Redefining Success: How Tribal Colleges and Universities Build Nations, Strengthen Sovereignty, and Persevere Through Challenges, explores the unique ways in which TCUs preserve Indigenous culture and educate students in the face of economic and federal funding challenges.

“The Penn Center for MSIs presents the important story of the Tribal Colleges . . . [and] educational access and achievement among the least-served peoples of the United States: its first citizens, the American Indian and Alaska Native people,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull, President and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. “Tribal Colleges matter and this report shares why supporting them is critical to the prosperity and well-being of Tribal nations.”

The report explains that there are 37 TCUs currently serving students across the U.S., 34 of which are accredited by mainstream accrediting bodies. These colleges and universities serve a relatively small population of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) students, but this demographic is growing rapidly, with an increase of over 25% in the past 10 years.

“TCUs are certainly accomplishing their mission to grow and preserve Tribal culture,” said Ginger Stull, lead author of the report and a CMSI affiliate. “While most colleges and universities have been facing an enrollment crisis, TCUs instead experienced enrollment growth, and many of them are among the fastest growing colleges in the country.”

Complicating their rapid growth, however, is the fact that TCUs face chronic underfunding. While TCUs have found some fiscal stability through persistent coalition building and other efforts, the report explains that more needs to be done on the federal level. For instance, the report recommends that TCUs should not be measured with the same criteria as other institutions because they were created for the main purpose of Tribal Nation-building. In accordance, they should have their own accrediting body that focuses on Indigenous values and ways of knowing.

“How can Tribal colleges and universities successfully preserve Tribal culture if they are judged by the same mainstream institutional powers that have historically subjugated them? They can’t, at least not fully; accreditation standards need to be culturally appropriate,” said Marybeth Gasman, co-author of the report and director of CMSI.

Indeed, TCUs are more than just institutions of learning and research; they are often deeply embedded in communities and play an influential role in local economic development. Many TCUs contribute to increasing job creation through workforce training in their entrepreneurial and small business programs. In Wisconsin, for example, the College of Menominee Nation added $37 million to the local economy in 2011 alone by adding jobs and tax revenues.

“TCUs face more challenges than almost any other institution of higher education, but just ask the students they serve, and they’ll tell you that they’re just as or even more important because of their deep ties to local communities,” said Andrés Castro Samayoa, co-author of the report and a Ph.D. research student at CMSI.

Full copies of report are freely available at CMSI’s website.
About The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions
The Penn Center for Minority Serving Institutions brings together researchers and practitioners from Historically Black Colleges and Universities, Tribal Colleges and Universities, Hispanic Serving Institutions, and Asian American, Native American, and Pacific Islander Serving Institutions. The Center’s goals include: elevating the educational contributions of MSIs; ensuring that they are a part of national conversations; bringing awareness to the vital role MSIs play in the nation’s economic development; increasing the rigorous scholarship of MSIs; connecting MSIs’ academic and administrative leadership to promote reform initiatives; and strengthening efforts to close educational achievement gaps among disadvantaged communities. For further information about the Center, please visit
About the Graduate School of Education (GSE) at the University of Pennsylvania
Penn GSE is one of the nation’s premier research education schools. No other education school enjoys a university environment as supportive of practical knowledge building as the Ivy League’s University of Pennsylvania. The School is notably entrepreneurial, launching innovative degree programs for practicing professionals, unique partnerships with local educators, and the first-ever business plan competition devoted exclusively to educational products and programs. For further information about Penn GSE, please visit