School & District Management

Tribal Colleges’ K-12 Links Called Key to Reservations

By Mark Stricherz — May 30, 2001 3 min read
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Little Big Horn College, located on the Crow Indian reservation in the foothills of southeastern Montana, will offer computer classes this summer to 100 or so mostly Native American students from several reservations.

Scott Rusell, the college’s technology specialist, insists that students learn more in the two-week course than simply how to surf the Web. He hopes that the classes help American Indian students become more proficient in computer skills so that history won’t repeat itself.

For More Information

The report “Building Strong Communities: Tribal Colleges as Engaged Institutions,” May 2001, is available from the Institute for Higher Education Policy. (Requires Adobe’s Acrobat Reader.)

“I always tell them our people who signed all those treaties were illiterate in the English language, and that should never happen again,” Mr. Rusell said.

Little Big Horn’s effort is one of many highlighted in a report released last week on the nation’s 32 tribal colleges and universities. “Building Strong Communities: Tribal Colleges as Engaged Institutions” examines the colleges’ role on the reservations they serve, including their links to K-12 schools.

The report was prepared by the Alexandria, Va.-based American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the Institute for Higher Education Policy in Washington. Financing for the project came from the Pew Charitable Trusts and the Administration for Native Americans, an arm of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The 55-page report was written to help improve the public’s understanding of tribal colleges and to secure greater federal funding for the institutions. Such colleges, it states, “increasingly have become the educational, social, and economic cores of the reservations and towns in which they are located.”

Crucial Role

Nationally, more than 49,000 students are enrolled in 185 elementary and secondary schools on 63 Indian reservations in 23 states. But because of a dearth of American Indian educators, the vast majority of teachers at those schools aren’t Native Americans.

That’s one reason that tribal colleges’ role in precollegiate programs is so crucial, the report notes.

“Educational programs either offered at tribal colleges or designed by tribal colleges target all stages of youth development and improvement,” the report says. “They encompass not only academic needs, but also physical, spiritual, and emotional needs.”

At Dull Knife Memorial College in Lane Dear, Mont., school officials run a program to help improve about 200 precollegiate students’ math and science skills, said Richard Littlebear, the college’s president.

The program is part of the Tribal College Rural Systemic Initiative, a regional effort by numerous tribal colleges. The initiative is made up of 18 Indian reservations in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming.

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, the initiative seeks to raise the number of American Indians in science and technology fields by emphasizing those subjects to K-12 students living in poor or rural regions.

The report also says that:

  • Several colleges run or help run early-intervention programs that focus on “healthy development"—nutrition, parenting activities, and other health-related services. Last year, seven tribal colleges, including Dull Knife Memorial College, together received about $1 million in federal Head Start funding for such programs.

  • Virtually all tribal colleges work with local schools. They provide direct services, operate programs, and allow high school students to take coursework for college credit.

  • Many of the colleges target K-12 students deemed at risk for academic failure, offering support programs and services for adolescents to build American Indian youths’ self- confidence, encourage them to set goals, and plan for their future education through mentoring and tutoring programs.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 30, 2001 edition of Education Week as Tribal Colleges’ K-12 Links Called Key to Reservations

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