In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities in the United States

  • Introduction
  • Textbooks
  • Role of TCUs
  • TCU Leadership
  • TCU Finances
  • Land Grant Status
  • TCU Student Success
  • TCU Transfer Student Experiences
  • TCU Faculty Experiences
  • Workforce Education at TCUs
  • Culturally and Place-Based Models and Frameworks Developed by TCU Faculty
  • Language Preservation
  • Research in the Sciences at TCUs
  • Early Childhood Education Research at TCUs
  • Health/Wellness
  • Program/Curriculum Development
  • TCU Collaborations
  • Standardized Testing at TCUs
  • Reports

Education Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities in the United States
Natalie Youngbull
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 February 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 February 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0235


Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are higher education institutions chartered by one or more tribal nation as an act of tribal sovereignty and self-determination. These institutions grew out of the social and political movements of the 1960s. The first TCU, Navajo Community College (now Dine College), was chartered in 1968. Currently, there are thirty-seven TCUs with seventy-seven campuses across thirteen states, with many campuses located on or near tribal reservations and communities. Overall enrollment across all TCUs is twenty-seven thousand and ranges from one hundred to one thousand within each respective institution. Degree offerings and services are responsive to identified community needs with all TCUs offering two-year degree programs and certificates. Currently, fourteen institutions have expanded several of their degree programs offerings into bachelor’s programs and five TCUs offer a master’s program. Similar to community colleges, TCUs are open admissions institutions. However, TCUs must maintain a majority American Indian/Alaskan Native full-time equivalent student enrollment to remain a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the governing body of TCUs, and continue receiving federal funding. TCUs receive federal funding through the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act of 1978 (renamed the Tribally Controlled College and University Assistance Act of 1978), and twenty-nine TCUs became land grant institutions through the Equity in Educational Land-Grant Status Act of 1994. TCUs are uniquely distinct higher education institutions whose mission statements and guiding principles embody the cultural knowledge, values, teachings, and histories of their respective tribal nation(s). TCUs’ missions are twofold: (i) to educate tribal members and (ii) to address tribally identified needs and priorities. Leadership and administration manage multiple duties/responsibilities in order to achieve the institution’s mission. Teaching is the priority for TCU faculty, but more faculty are conducting and producing research that is culturally guided and community- and place-based. Faculty have also produced culturally relevant models and frameworks in the spaces of student retention and success and environmental sustainability. Today, TCUs continue to work toward greater impacts within tribal communities and beyond through the development of new culturally-informed degree programs and curriculum, research across disciplines, appropriate collaborations, and American Indian/Alaskan Native student retention and persistence and transfer success at mainstream institutions.


The tribal college and university (TCU) movement is documented in the following texts. Approaches and strategies to TCU development and planning for the future are discussed in Benham and Stein 2003. Stories and experiences about TCU development from several original presidents of the first tribal colleges are highlighted in Boyer 2015.

  • Benham, M. K. P., and W. J. Stein, eds. 2003. The renaissance of American Indian higher education: Capturing the dream. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

    This edited volume provides an in-depth examination of the tribal college movement from its beginning and visioning for the future. Each of the twelve chapters were written by established and emerging TCU scholars and Native education experts and focus on topics such as the development of TCUs, partnering within the community and beyond, Native leadership, and Native student access, retention, and success.

  • Boyer, P. 2015. Capturing education: Envisioning and building the first tribal colleges. Pablo, MT: Salish Kootenai College.

    This monograph provides a deeper understanding of the tribal college movement over nine chapters that weaves through the establishment of the first few tribal colleges, including topics such as tribally controlled higher education, securing charters and funding, building a college, cultivating partnerships, and creating culturally based curriculum.

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