As we near graduation next month, many high school seniors and other non-traditional students are finalizing their fall college plans. This post highlights an often overlooked option for post-secondary study: tribal colleges, which play a critical role in educating and training workforces across our state and which provide a range of educational opportunities, from adult basic education and certificates to associate’s and bachelor’s degrees.
The tribal colleges located in the state of Montana play a critical role within the broader higher education system in the state. Out of the 32 fully accredited tribal colleges in the U.S., seven of them are located in Montana — one on each reservation, serving more than 5,000 students. Perhaps surprisingly, non-Indian students make up between 10-30 percent of the student body at tribal colleges in Montana. However, the colleges are only eligible for federal funding tied to the number of Indian students they serve. The state of Montana has recognized the critical role that tribal colleges play and provides a state investment tied to the number of non-Indian students enrolled. Although this investment provides some support to offset the expense of serving non-Indian students, it falls well below the amount the state provides per student to non-tribal community colleges and public universities.
Tribal colleges have expanded their enrollment demographic in recent years partly because they continue to be an affordable option for students and families and also because they have increased academic offerings. Tribal colleges provide job training opportunities that meet the needs of their local communities. Additionally, they have joined tribal leaders in efforts to preserve tribal language, history and culture. All the while, their modest size and structure has enabled to them to expand their degree offerings to reflect the broader job market. Many now offer degrees in information technology, business management, and entrepreneurship, as well as healthcare-related professions like nursing and psychology. They have also worked to develop coordinated agreements with colleges in the Montana University System, so that students can successfully transfer to a MUS school or access online courses to meet their academic and career needs.
Today, tribal colleges are a great option for any student looking for an affordable, close-to-home education that includes a smaller campus and a modest class size that affords them the personal attention needed for academic success.