AUTHOR
Shweta Karikehalli
Shweta Karikehalli
PUBLISHED
April 08, 2021
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The Top Tribal Colleges and Universities to Recruit From

TCUs should be a part of your campus recruiting strategy.

The Top Tribal Colleges and Universities to Recruit From

American Indians and Alaska Natives are vastly underrepresented in certain job fields. Only 0.3 percent of people employed in the engineering workforce are American Indians or Alaska Natives, per a 2010 study by Sandia National Laboratories. American Indian and Alaska Native representation in medicine is equally discouraging: just 0.2 percent of U.S. medical school students in 2020 were American Indian/Alaska Native, according to data from the Association of American Medical College.


Tribal colleges and universities were designed in part to combat underrepresentation by providing higher education opportunities for American Indians, and to incorporate cultural values in the schools. In 1973, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was established to provide a support network for the first six tribally-controlled colleges, as they worked to influence federal policies on American Indian higher education. Now, there are 32 fully accredited TCUs, with three in Associate Status and one more formal applicant for accreditation. 24 of the colleges have accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission, and nine have accreditation through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. The remaining two TCUs are working toward accreditation.


Today, there are TCUS on 75 campuses across 16 states, serving students from 230 federally recognized Indian tribes. However, despite the underrepresentation of American Indians in STEM and professional fields, TCUs remain underutilized in recruitment. According to NACE’s 2017 Benchmark Recruiting Survey, only 6.1 percent of employers said they used TCUs as part of their diversity recruiting efforts.


TCUs not only provide environments that foster American Indian culture and traditions, but are also sources of incredible talent and hardworking students who are ready to enter the workforce. TCUs offer a number of apprenticeships, certificates, associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees. In total, TCUs offer 358 programs, including 181 associate degrees, 40 bachelor’s degree programs, and 5 master’s degree programs. 


Looking to increase your recruitment efforts from TCUs? Use our list of notable TCUs as a guide.


Salish Kootenai College

Main campus location: Pablo, Montana

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities


Salish Kootenai College, grounded in the cultures of the Séliš, Ksanka and QÍispé people of the Flathead Nation, aspires to be the top educational center of excellence for American Indian Students. The school ranks in the top 10 percent nationwide for colleges that offer the most-focused degrees in natural resources, as well as for conservation and geological/earth sciences. It is also ranked in the top five percent of colleges that offer the most-focused degrees for teacher education (grade specific). The most popular majors at Salish Kootenai College, which offers a total of 17 Bachelor degrees, 22 Associate degrees, and 6 Certificates of Completion, include nursing, dental assisting, psychology, and business. Students who attend Salish Kootenai College are sure to get personalized attention, with small class sizes and a student-to-faculty ratio of 10:1.



Northwest Indian College

Main campus location: Bellingham, Washington

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities


Northwest Indian College is the only accredited tribal college that serves tribes across the states of Washington, Idaho, and Oregon. The college serves more than 1,200 students annually, 70% of which come from federally-recognized Indian tribes. A total of 90 different tribal nations are represented by their student body. 


Northwest Indian College is committed to helping develop environmental scientists and leaders who are rooted in their culture. They even offer a scholarship, funded through the National Science Foundation, to students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Native Environmental Science. The college’s Salish Sea Research Center is a resource for students to gain a background in scientific methods while also fostering a respect for indigenous knowledge of nature. The center researches harmful algal blooms — overgrowths of algae which may produce dangerous toxins — in Bellingham Bay and studies population dynamics of Longfin Smelt, an important resource for the nearby Lummi Tribe.


Sitting Bull College

Main campus location: Fort Yates, North Dakota

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Master’s, Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Sitting Bull College is located on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota and has two sites in South Dakota. Its namesake is the Hunkpapa Lakota chief Sitting Bull, whose quote is the college’s vision statement: “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” The college ranks in the top five percent for most-focused computer information systems programs and offers associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degrees in environmental science. Graduates from the environmental science programs go on to manage local natural resources, and students have interned at NASA, the United States Forest Service, and the Natural Resource and Conservation Service, among others.


College of Menominee Nation

Main campus location: Keshena, Wisconsin

School type: Four-year       

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


The College of Menominee Nation serves students of the Menominee, Oneida, Chippewa, Ho-Chunk, Navajo, Potawatomi, Mohegan, and many other tribes. It ranks in the top five percent nationwide for most-focused accounting, public administration, and teacher education (grade specific) programs. Popular majors include business administration and management, nursing, and liberal arts general studies. The college is committed to sustainability, fostering relationships between the six dimensions of the Menominee Theoretical Model of Sustainability, which seeks to support both socio-economic development and environmental protection.


Haskell Indian Nations University

Main campus location: Lawrence, Kansas

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Haskell Indian Nations University has been serving American Indian and Alaska Native people in Kansas since 1884. Today, students representing federally recognized tribes across the United States attend the college, which has an average enrollment of more than 1,000 students each semester. The college ranks in the top one percent nationwide for most-focused ethnic studies programs, and in the top ten percent for location diversity and most-focused natural sciences and natural resources conservation programs. Haskell Indian Nations University participates in several STEM partnership programs, including the Tribal Colleges and Universities Program, which is supported by the National Science Foundation. Students who participate in this program get the opportunity to evaluate the vegetation, hydrology and soil of the Haskell wetlands, map within the Haskell wetlands using GPS and Geographic Information Systems technology, and work with graduate-level math faculty members.


Navajo Technical University

Main campus location: Crownpoint, New Mexico

School type: Four-year       

Degrees offered: Masters, Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Navajo Technical University began as began as the Navajo Skill Center in 1979, aiming to meet the needs of the unemployed population on the Navajo Nation. After a demand for more rigorous academics by students, Navajo Skill Center became a college, as well as the first university established on the Navajo Nation. NTU offers a variety of majors and degree programs, including veterinary technology (accredited by the American Veterinary Medical Association), electrical engineering, geographic information technology, and more. Students can also pursue a masters in Diné culture, language, and leadership. This degree prepares them for careers such as K-12 teachers, social workers, and behavioral health workers.


Diné College

Main campus location: Tsaile, Arizona

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Diné College, founded as Navajo Community College in 1968, was the United States’ first tribally chartered college. It serves a predominantly Navajo population, spanning across Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah, and is ranked in the top five percent nationally for the most-focused health professions programs.The Diné Environmental Institute, along with the Navajo Nation Division of Health, aids the United States Geological Survey in examining connections between residential and industrial coal usage. The institute also researches the impacts of past uranium mining and milling practices on Navajo communities. The college offers a number of degree programs in STEM fields, as well as in education, business, and the arts.


Sinte Gleska University

Main campus location: Mission, South Dakota

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Bachelor’s, Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Sinte Gleska University is located on the Rosebud Sioux reservation and primarily serves the Sicangu Lakota community. The University offers 23 bachelor's degrees, 25 associate degrees, two master's degrees, and 12 certificate programs. The bachelor’s programs in education, human services, and business are among the most popular there. The university received four-year accreditation in 1983 and five years later, established its first master’s degree program, making it the first tribal college to be accredited at the master’s degree level.


Oglala Lakota College

Main campus location: Kyle, South Dakota

School type: Four-year

Degrees offered: Masters, bachelors, associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission



Oglala Lakota College, which ranks in the top one percent of the country for the most focused ethnic studies programs, began as a community college before growing to offer bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Students pursuing a bachelor’s degree can major in business administration, natural science, or information technology, among others. Master’s students can study Lakota Leadership and Management, with or without an education administration emphasis. Graduates of Oglala Lakota College go on to earn PhDs in geological engineering, intern at the National Human Genome Research Institute, and become student counselors.



Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute

Main campus location: Albuquerque, New Mexico

School type: Two-year

Degrees offered: Associate

Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission


Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is a two-year college that boasts some impressive statistics. 100% of the school’s approximately 600 students are Native American, representing more than 70 different tribes. 96% of student either find work or transfer to a four-year college after graduation, and graduates see an average salary increase of almost $10,000. Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute is located in the New Mexico Technology Corridor, a cluster of high-tech private companies and government institutions along the Rio Grande, and students are eligible to transfer to the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and the New Mexico Highlands University through articulation and transfer agreements between SIPI and those schools. Popular majors at SIPI include business, management, marketing, health professions, and education.


This is just a sample of the TCUs in the United States that graduate students every year who are equipped to enter the workforce. For the full listing, and to learn more about TCUs, you can visit the American Indian Higher Education Consortium’s website here.


Lead Image Credit: Photo of Salish Kootenai College from the U.S. Department of Education on Flickr


Download our guide “Beyond The Ivy League” for more information on expanding your recruitment reach and finding students at the top public schools, HBCUs, and HSIs.

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