April 15, 2022

Tribal Students Face Unique Challenges in Higher Education

Patrick Horning, who is the national tribal strategic alliance executive at the University of Phoenix, recently wrote an article featured on Inside Higher Ed that dives into the unique challenges of tribal students – those with backgrounds from Native American, American Indian, Alaska Native and Native Hawaiian heritage.


According to Horning, tribal students are missing many fundamental things that most college students take for granted.  Things such as electricity, internet access, and lack of prior generation college experience.    On internet access, nearly one in five reservation residents do not have any internet, and approximately a third of all tribal residents lack broadband quality connectivity.  Hence, access to online education and the latest technology collaboration tools is severely lacking.


There is also a large cultural divide for tribal students.  Many tribal students were born and raised on the reservation or in their tribal community.  There is limited interaction outside of the reservation environment and with the lack of family and relatives on the reservation with prior college experience, tribal students face culture shock when they step onto a college campus.  Some compare the tribal student experience to studying abroad in a foreign country.


Additionally, Horning argues that colleges mistakenly assume tribal students will adapt to their new environments.  Instead, Horning suggests providing customized support and identifying the unique challenges of tribal students.  One improvement to consider is getting to know the backgrounds of typical tribal students more intimately.  Many tribal students are older, with families, and delayed college until their kids were grown.  They need a more flexible schedule for school while juggling job and home life responsibilities.


Finally, Horning and the University of Phoenix team established a tribal operations team that was less focused on only enrolling tribal students, but more so on the whole student experience from admissions to student life to post-graduate career.  Team members act more like counselors guiding and mentoring tribal students.  The results of establishing the tribal operations team are notable – University of Phoenix tribal students are now progressing through their coursework at rates eight to ten percentage points higher than the student body at large.  Additionally, many tribal students graduate with little or no student loan debt due to the Tribal Strategic Alliance Agreement, which supports students with lower cost education and the option to pursue certificate or degree programs.


For a link to the full article from Inside Higher Ed, click here.


Admitify highlights a few schools and resources that provide specific opportunities for tribal students:


  • Gongaza University offers an MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship, which was established in 2001 and provides considerable scholarship support including a 50% tuition discount. For more information on the MBA offering, click here.
  • Southeastern Oklahoma State University offers the Native American Leadership MBA online program with a focus on managing diversity in a changing world as applied to personal and organizational leadership as well as tribal sovereignty and contemporary issues facing the Indian Country. Click here for more information about the program.
  • The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management – mission is to provide underrepresented students opportunities to pursue management education and become corporate leaders. The organization typically recruits a class of more than 500 students each academic year that enroll in the 20-member business schools.  For more information click here.
  • Goldman Sachs MBA Fellowship – established in 1997 and open to underrepresented students, fellowship recipients will receive a $35,000 award in addition to the Summer Associate salary. Upon successful completion of the summer internship and acceptance of a full-time offer, Fellowship recipients will be awarded an additional $40,000, plus any full-time Associate signing bonus. For more information click here.