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American Indian College Fund

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Headquarters  Denver, Colorado, United States
Similar  American Indian Higher E, Sitting Bull College, Diné College, Leech Lake Tribal College, College of Menominee Nation

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The American Indian College Fund is a nonprofit organization that helps Native American students, providing them with support through scholarships and funding toward higher education. The Fund provides an average of 6,000 annual scholarships for American Indian students and also provides support for other needs at the tribal colleges ranging from capital support to cultural preservation activities. Charity Navigator gave the College Fund a four-star rating.


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The American Indian College Fund (the College Fund) was established in 1989 as a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization to provide American Indians with student scholarships. The College Fund also helps support tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) located on or near Indian reservations through capital grants and programs such as cultural and language preservation, early childhood education programs on-campus for children of students and community members; fellowships for faculty development; and college readiness, internship, career readiness, and leadership development programs.

Today American Indians account for only 1% of all college students, and 13.6% of American Indians over age 25 years old have a bachelor’s degree compared to 29.3% of the overall population. Poverty is part of the reason so few American Indians and Alaska Natives go to college, with current data showing that 28.3% of the American Indian and Alaska Natives living below the poverty level compared to 15.5% of the overall population.

History and mission

During the Civil Rights Acts and Native American self-determination movements in 1960s and 1970s, tribal leaders decided there was a need for change in failed federal education policy to improve education for American Indian students to serve their communities, leading to the creation of tribal colleges and universities (TCUs).

In 1968, the Navajo Nation created the first-of-its-kind educational institution—a college controlled by the tribe, located on the Navajo reservation, to provide a quality higher education to the surrounding community, known as a tribal college and university. TCU presidents established the College Fund in 1989 in New York City to raise private-sector funds for scholarships for American Indian students and to raise money for financial support for the tribal colleges, while broadening awareness of those institutions and the College Fund itself.

In 2015-16, the College Fund distributed more than $8.1 million in direct support to students, including scholarships, internships, leadership training, career readiness, and other programmatic support. Scholarship recipients are selected on the basis of academic success, financial need, community involvement, and commitment to their tribal communities. To date the College Fund has provided more than 100,000 scholarships since its inception and an average of 6,000 scholarships per year to American Indian students. The College Fund also helps support accredited tribal colleges with research and leadership grants, cultural preservation programs, early childhood education programs, and faculty development fellowships as well as with institutional funding.

The American Indian College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators. It earned the Best in America Seal of Excellence from America's Best Charities. Of the one million charities operating in the United States, fewer than 2,000 organizations have been awarded this seal. The College Fund meets the Standards for Charity Accountability of the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance. The College Fund received an B+ rating from Charity Watch. The College Fund received a silver rating from GuideStar and ualso consistently receives high ratings, most recently a four-start rating, from Charity Navigator.

Originally headquartered in New York City, the College Fund relocated to Denver, Colorado in 2002.

Tribal colleges

Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are vital to Native Americans and are beneficial to the country as a whole. They help Native communities and students gain a valuable education and also preserve Native language, culture and traditions through language curriculum and American Indian studies.

Since the first tribal college was established in 1968, the number of tribal colleges and universities has grown to 37 in the United States in 2016.

According to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, TCUs are chartered by their respective tribal governments, including the ten tribes within the largest reservations in the United States. They operate more than 75 campuses in 16 states—virtually covering Indian Country—and serve students from well more than 230 federally recognized Indian tribes. TCUs vary in enrollment (size), focus (liberal arts, sciences, workforce development/training), location (woodlands, desert, frozen tundra, rural reservation, urban), and student population (predominantly American Indian). Despite their diversity, tribal identity is the core of every TCU, and they all share the mission of tribal self-determination and service to their respective communities.

TCUs engage in partnerships with organizations including U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, and universities nationwide to support research and education programs that focus on issues such as climate change, sustainable agriculture, water quality, wildlife population dynamics, and diabetes prevention. Many support distance learning involving state-of-the-art learning environments.

TCU faculty is engaged in research in many areas including hydrology, molecular cell biology, archaeology, entomology, community health, environmental science, aerospace engineering, and advanced manufacturing processes. The majority of faculty, teaching staff, and administrators hold a master's or doctoral degree. Many faculty and staff members often serve double-duty as counselors and mentors in addition to their teaching and administrative roles.

TCUs provide services to help students stay in school and complete their studies, such as personal and career counseling, mentoring, tutoring, wellness programs, child care, computer lending programs, and transportation and housing assistance. They also provide services to the wider community they serve and offer health centers, lending libraries, computer centers, and lifelong learning programs.

TCUs at a glance

  • In 2016 there were 37 TCUs serving more than 17,000 Native students enrolled in academic programs;
  • TCUs operate more than 75 campuses in 16 states and serve students from more than 230 federally recognized Indian tribes.
  • TCUs must meet the same academic standards as other colleges and universities;
  • Native culture and language are infused throughout curriculum;
  • Non-Natives can also attend TCUs;
  • TCUs are competitive. Leech Lake Tribal College was ranked by Washington Monthly as the seventh of “America’s 50 Best Community Colleges” in 2010. It was one of two TCUs to earn this recognition.
  • TCUs contribute to the economies of their communities. According to a report by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium in 2015, TCUs’ economic impact was approximately equal to the creation of 28,778 jobs.
  • Public service announcement

    The American Indian College Fund has continued its partnership with Portland, Oregon-based advertising agency partner, Wieden+Kennedy for more than 20 years to educate the public through a series of public service announcements to show the difference a higher education makes in American Indian communities. In 2015 they launched a campaign called 1%, to bring attention to the fact that only 1% of college students in the United States are American Indians. The campaign consists of print and video public service announcements. Wieden+Kennedy is known for its award-winning work for clients such as Nike and Coca-Cola.

    The College Fund's public service announcements have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Harper's, U.S. News and World Report, Fortune, Sports Illustrated, Comcast, MSNBC, Discovery Networks, and National Geographic channel.


    American Indian College Fund Wikipedia