Feasibility Study Finds Strong Demand for Tribal College in Eastern U.S.

BOSTON and NASHVILLE — American Indian students east of the Mississippi River want an intertribal college that serves their needs, and the various Tribes are committed to pursue the establishment of such a college, according to a federally funded study released this week.

The year-long feasibility study was conducted jointly by the New England Board of Higher Education (NEBHE) and the United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc. (USET). The USET region includes 24 federally recognized Tribes from Maine to Florida to Texas.

The study was funded by the Office of Minority Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The study examined the feasibility of establishing an intertribal college initially focused on health sciences, technology and pre-medical education that will serve the Tribes located in USET region. This new institution could include a physical hub campus with numerous satellite-learning centers located on reservations and in urban Indian centers.

The study combined a quantitative analysis of tribal demographics and resources with Tribal “talking circles” and focus groups to glean opinions from Tribal leaders, Tribal elders, health and education directors, and students about the need for an intertribal college.

There are currently 35 tribal colleges in the United States. But the only ones east of the Mississippi River are in the upper reaches of Michigan — located far from most of the USET Tribes.

Among the study’s findings:

  • There is high demand for trained tribal members to staff tribal health clinics and provide health services in a culturally sensitive manner.
  • There are enough potential students, both young people and adults, among the tribal populations in the East to sustain the development and ongoing operation of an intertribal college.
  • Tribal members in the East have strong desires to pursue higher education and college degrees, including degrees in medicine and health sciences professions.
  • The overwhelming majority of Tribes have sufficient baseline resources to facilitate the establishment of satellite-learning centers where tribal members could engage in face-to-face instruction and in distance learning.  
  • Tribal elders say an intertribal college must have culturally relevant education as its core mission to help preserve the culture, history and languages of Eastern Tribes, while preparing students to be competitive in their career areas.

“The tribal leadership and elders are committed to developing a higher education institution that meets the highest academic standards while incorporating the unique history, culture and languages into the curriculum,” said USET president Keller George.

NEBHE delegate Donna Loring, a member of the Penobscot Indian Nation and former member of the Maine State Legislature noted, “There is an obvious need for a Tribal college to be located east of the Mississippi River. In order to move forward, there needs to be a place at the table for every USET tribe.”

The study suggests that USET begin designing operational, financial and curricular plans for an Eastern intertribal college and researching the best location for the intertribal college.

For more information about the study, please contact Tiffany Cheuvront, Bureau Information Officer with USET at chevy@uset.org or (615) 467-1553 or Fenna Hanes, senior director, office of programs at NEBHE, at fhanes@nebhe.org or (617) 357-9620 x129.

NEBHE is a nonprofit, congressionally authorized agency whose mission is to promote greater educational opportunities and services for the residents of New England. NEBHE programs are principally focused on the relationship between New England higher education and regional economic development.

USET, Inc. is a non-profit, intertribal organization that collectively represents its member Tribes at the regional and national level. Its main function is to provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas among USET Tribes, government agencies and other American Indian organizations. USET has grown to include twenty-four federally recognized Tribes in its current membership.


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