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Support, Well-Being, and Community Connections at Tribal Colleges and Universities

Graduates tend to feel more support, greater well-being, and better connections to their communities and alma mater

October 1, 2019

Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs), which are often located on reservations and controlled by Native American or Alaska Native tribes, provide supportive educational environments for students. A new report from the American Indian College Fund and Gallup, Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities, is “based on the largest survey” of TCU graduates ever conducted.

Prospective American Indian and Alaska Native students face extraordinary challenges in educational access—the report cites research that found just 19 percent of American Indians between eighteen and twenty-four years old were enrolled in college in 2016, a decline from 41 percent in 2010.

Against this backdrop, the mission of TCUs are vitally important. TCUs “provide postsecondary instruction that is more aligned with Native culture and values than the instruction at mainstream institutions,” the report said. Compared to students at other types of institutions, TCU graduates tend to feel more support from faculty and mentors, greater well-being in their life and work, and better connections to their communities and alma mater.

TCUs Provide Access to Higher Education for Students in Tribal Communities

  • According to the report, many tribal communities are located far from higher education institutions, and students in “a traditional degree program at a mainstream institution . . . likely will face persistent challenges that include feelings of isolation, cultural mismatch and racial discrimination.”
  • Many students at TCUs are low-income, as 81 percent received need-based federal financial aid (such as Pell Grants).
  • However, TCU students have less debt than students nationally or at other Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs). According to the report, just 3 percent “of TCU alumni undertook $20,001 to $40,000 in student loans to obtain an associate or bachelor’s degree, while 19 [percent] of college graduates nationally . . . did so.”

TCU Alumni See the Value of College and Feel Connected to their Alma Mater

  • If TCUs are more affordable than many other institutions, it may explain why TCU alumni (67 percent) are much more likely than graduates nationally (39 percent) or at MSIs (42 percent) to strongly agree their education was “worth the cost.”
  • According to the report, they are also much more likely to recommend their alma mater to others. “More than six in 10 alumni are extremely likely to recommend their institution to friends, family and colleagues, compared with 41 [percent] of graduates nationally,” the report said.
  • TCU alumni are also more likely to say that their alma mater prepared them “well for life outside of college.” In fact, they “outpace graduates in all three comparison groups by at least 13 percentage points,” the report said.
  • TCU alumni are much more likely to be “attached” to their institution, meaning they strongly agreed with two statements: “I can’t imagine a world without [Institution]” and “[Institution] was the perfect school for people like me.” Nearly half (48 percent) of TCU alumni are attached to their alma mater, compared to just 19 percent of graduates nationally.

TCU Alumni Were Supported on Campus and Have High Levels of Well-Being

  • TCUs provide a very supportive educational environment to their students. Most TCU alumni said they were supported emotionally, defined in the report as having “at least one professor who made them excited about learning” (80 percent strongly agreed), “professors who cared about them as a person” (59 percent), and “a mentor who encouraged them to pursue their goals and dreams” (53 percent).
  • Forty-three percent of TCU alumni strongly agreed they were supported in all three areas, more than double the closest comparison group.
  • Gallup also asked if TCU alumni are “thriving,” “struggling,” or “thriving” in five categories of general wellbeing: physical (good health and energy); community (liking their area, feeling pride about it, or feeling safe there); financial (feeling less stress and more security about money); social (having love and strong, supportive relationships); and career (feeling motivated and liking daily work).
  • Except for physical wellbeing, TCU alumni were more likely than their comparison groups to feel thriving in all categories. They were especially likely to be thriving in their career (62 percent), social life (54 percent), and community (47 percent).

TCU Students May Have Fewer Opportunities for Experiential Learning

  • Gallup investigated student participation in experiential activities, including jobs or internships that applied classroom learning; projects that took longer than a semester; extracurricular activities and organizations.
  • Overall, 9 percent of TCU alumni experienced all three kinds of experiential learning, equal to alumni nationally.
  • However, TCU alumni were less likely to have experienced an individual form of experiential learning. For example, 31 percent of TCU alumni completed a project that took longer than one semester, contrasted with 42 percent of graduates nationally.

Many TCU Alumni Dedicate Their Careers to Improving Their Community

  • Overall, “almost three-quarters of alumni . . . work in areas related to American Indian communities or tribal lands,” the report said. Nearly 40 percent of alumni with jobs work for their tribe and 35 percent work for Indian-owned companies (with at least half the company being owned by Native Americans or tribes).
  • TCU alumni are more likely to be engaged in their work and less likely to be actively disengaged (42 percent and 9 percent, respectively) than college graduates nationally (37 percent and 14 percent, respectively).
  • TCU alumni go on to a variety of different careers. More than a quarter (28 percent) work in education, training, or libraries. Many also work in STEM fields such as healthcare (12 percent); science, engineering, and architecture (4 percent); or computers, information systems, or mathematics (3 percent). Other fields include community and social services, law, or public policy.
  • TCU alumni are much more likely than their peers in comparison groups—by at least ten percentage points—to “strongly agree they are deeply interested in the work that they do, have a job that gives them the opportunity to do work that interests them and have the ideal job for them.”

Unless otherwise cited, statistics included in this report are from a recent survey by the American Indian College Fund and Gallup, Alumni of Tribal Colleges and Universities Better Their Communities.