Survey Shows Colleges Transform Graduates

Volume 12, No. 2 - Winter 2000
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Recent graduates of Northwest Indian College's Oksale teacher education program include (back row): Janice Brendible, Interim Oksale Director Tim Stuart, Lois Cadiente, WSU Liaison Dr. Susan Banks, and Flavian Point. Front row: Thomas Sternberg, Nancy Jo Bob, and Willetta Wyse.

A national survey of tribal college graduates shows dramatic successes in employment, salaries, and advanced degrees. According to the survey, 91 percent of 1998 tribal college and university graduates were working or attending college one year after graduating.  Many of the jobs the graduates fill are in areas of “high need” within their own communities, especially teaching and health care. In this way, they are also becoming role models on the reservations.

“Creating Role Models for Change: A Survey of Tribal College Graduates” was written and conducted by The Institute for Higher Education Policy, a non-profit education research group, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), and the Sallie Mae Education Institute. It is the third in a series under the Tribal College Research and Database Initiative, sponsored by AIHEC and the American Indian College Fund.

This report comes at a time when federal interest in American Indian education is perhaps at an all-time high due to the Clinton Administration’s attention in coordinating private and public funding support for American Indian policy initiatives. These include internet technology, economic development, teacher training, and infrastructure. Facing a history of systemic and unprecedented failure in higher education, American Indians have had lower levels of educational attainment than any other ethnic or racial group. In 1990, only 66 percent of American Indians had a high school education, and only 9 percent had graduated from college.

This survey shows graduates of the nation’s 33 tribal colleges are, on average, female (74 percent), unmarried (55 percent), 34 years old (7 years older than the average community college graduate nationally), and largely first generation college-attendees. The study indicates that tribal colleges play a critical role in helping single mothers redirect their lives since 72 percent of unmarried female students at these colleges have children.

Other survey results include:

  • Employment: 91 percent of tribal college graduates are working or attending college one year after graduating. The employment rate for the graduates one year after graduation is 74 percent, virtually the same as that for all community college degree recipients nationally, who typically have access to far more opportunities.
  • Advanced Education: In the year after receiving their degrees, 48 percent of tribal college graduates go on to further education while only 31 percent of all community college degree recipients do so. Overall, more than 80 percent of those continuing their education are seeking a BA degree.
  • Salaries: The median salary for tribal college graduates in full-time jobs is $18,444, despite working in regions of very low income with few economic opportunities. Overall, median household income levels on reservations where tribal colleges are located were about half the median household income level for the U.S. population (1990 data).
  • Occupations: 16 percent of those working enter the health care field, and 13 percent pursue teaching, both areas of great need and shortages in reservation areas.
  • Further Education Fields of Study: 27 percent pursue business/management, 20 percent study teaching, and 11 percent study computer science.

“These findings confirm the central role that these colleges play in American Indian higher education,” said David Gipp, president of AIHEC and president of United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota. “It is the unique nature of tribal colleges in integrating tribal values along with academic and technical excellence, which allows students to achieve success despite starting out in the most impoverished regions in the nation.”


Note: Based on responses regarding work and enrollment status. Working includes self-employment. The majority of homemakers are included in the “not working, not attending college” category. Percentages exclude graduates who selected none of the possible activities. Source: 1999 Tribal College Alumni Survey.

Single copies of the report are free (while supplies last) to the public and can be obtained by calling 703/ 838-0400, or they may be downloaded from <> or <>.

2017 AIHEC Student Poetry Slam


On the opening evening of the 2017 AIHEC Student Conference in Rapid City, students from an array of TCUs entertained conference goers with the spoken word at the annual poetry slam. View the video

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