Native American students who have dropped out of college have found a sense of belonging in California’s tribal colleges. However, these minority-focused institutions are facing severe challenges in getting returning students back on track.
The creation of tribal colleges was recommended to keep Native American students in college. Since then, emerging schools like the California Indian Nations College (CINC) and Kumeyaay Community College have seen rising enrollment numbers.
“Tribal colleges and universities are different from mainstream colleges and universities. There is a sense of belonging, a sense of identity, a sense of ease that the students end up feeling,” said Robert Przeklasa, the former chief academic officer at CINC.
Research found that offering an educational environment where Native students feel welcomed has boosted retention and graduation rates at tribal colleges. Advocates have pointed to this trend when discussing the need for this type of education.
“There’s a lot of need in California Indian Country for higher education. I believe that a tribal college is a way to help close those equity gaps,” Przeklasa added.
While the community benefits are apparent, establishing more Native American colleges in the state will not be easy. The process of accreditation and raising the money to cover operational expenses are serious challenges.
Tribal colleges have to be accredited to award degrees. However, this can be expensive and time-consuming since schools would have to pay for site visits and other fees. This includes any changes in infrastructures or degree programs required by the accreditor.
Funding poses problems since unaccredited colleges cannot use federal or state financial aid, such as the $600 million President Joe Biden set aside for minority-serving institutions.
“It’s really this Catch-22. You can’t get any funding until you get accredited, but you need funding to get accredited,” Przeklasa remarked.