Tribal Colleges: Gains for 'Underfunded Miracles'

Article excerpt

When the native-American community makes the news, all too often it is portrayed with a sense of plight.

But a story of renewal and hope has been waiting to be told: native-American colleges.

From North Dakota to Arizona, tribal colleges have been steadily and quietly making a positive difference in native-American communities. Documenting their determination is a report released yesterday by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. The report, titled "Native American Colleges: Progress and Prospects," revisits a study done eight years ago by Carnegie and offers evidence of how these colleges, sometimes referred to as "underfunded miracles," have grown and succeeded against great odds. "Without question, the most significant development in American Indian communities since World War II, was the creation of tribally controlled colleges, institutions of higher learning founded by tribes and governed by Indians," writes Paul Boyer, author of the report, who has studied the colleges for more than a decade. "More than any other single institution, they are changing lives and offering real hope for the future." Mr. Boyer and his colleagues make the case that today: * Tribal colleges establish a learning environment that supports students who had come to view failure as the norm. * They celebrate and help sustain native-American traditions. * They provide counseling and recreation services that enrich surrounding communities. * Tribal colleges are centers for scholarship in such areas as prairie-grasslands management and mental-health services. The first tribal college was founded in 1968 on the Navajo Reservation in Arizona. Today, there are 27 tribally controlled colleges in the United States, mainly concentrated in the northern Plains and in the Southwest. For the most part, they are two-year community colleges. Resources are limited: Facilities, while deemed "adequate," are often in poor shape and lack updated equipment. Yet more of these colleges are adding four-year and even graduate degrees to their curriculums. While much of the faculty is American Indian, two-thirds is non-Indian. According to the report, most graduates stay on the reservation, share their knowledge, and serve as role models. …