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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities 3 Opportunities and Challenges for Tribal Colleges and Universities The first tribal colleges were established in the late-1960s in the wake of the civil rights and the American Indian self-determination movements to increase access to higher education for young people growing up on reservations. The first tribal college was Navajo Community College, established in 1968 and funded through the Navajo Community College Act (P.L. 92-189). Since then, 36 tribal colleges have been established in 14 states in the United States. This phenomenal increase in a relatively short time reflects the strong commitment of Native communities, tribal leaders, faculty, and administrators to the unique mission of TCUs. “Tribal colleges have a dual mission, (1) to provide excellence in education and to prepare their students for employment in the 21st century and (2) [to] provide a place where American Indian language, culture, and the traditional wisdom of the Elders are infused into the curricula and extracurricular activities” (AIHEC, 1999). A primary goal of tribal colleges is to provide higher education for American Indian students without forcing them to assimilate into mainstream white culture. TCUs are solidly grounded in their respective Native cultures and in traditional wisdom, thus helping their students to preserve their Native identities. In 2004, 13 percent of all American Indian/Alaska Native3 college students were enrolled in tribally controlled colleges. From 1997 to 2002, American Indian/Alaska Native enrollment in TCUs increased faster than in colleges and universities generally (32 percent vs. 16 percent) (Freeman and Fox, 2005). Enrollments of all students at TCUs have risen 110 percent since 1990 (AIHEC, 2005). In a 1999 publication, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) noted that, although TCUs are collectively called tribal colleges, they are in various stages of development and have different structures, sizes, and other characteristics. They do, however, have some common characteristics: most TCUs are less than 30 years old; most have relatively small student bodies (ranging from 109 students at White Earth Tribal College in Mahnomen, Minnesota, to 2,833 students at Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona); students are predominantly American Indian (80 percent of total enrollment in 2004); most TCUs are located on remote reservations where access to other colleges is limited; most were chartered by one or more tribes; all have open admission policies; all began as two-year institutions; all are fully accredited by regional accrediting agencies, except for a few that are currently candidates for accreditation; the majority are two-year institutions that offer associate degrees and certificates or degrees for programs of less than two years. In 2004–2005, nine TCUs offered bachelor’s degrees, and two offered master’s degrees (AIHEC, 2005). No TCU offers a four-year engineering degree program. Individual TCUs have different enabling documents that affect the financial and other resources available to them. Haskell Indian Nations University and SIPI, for example, are 100 3 National data are for both American Indians and Alaska Natives when it is not possible to separate data for each group.
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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities percent federally funded, including faculty and staff. Two TCUs are corporations owned by tribes—United Tribes Technical College, for example, is jointly owned by five tribes. Some TCUs, such as Crownpoint Institute of Technology, are primarily vocational institutions. Tribal colleges also play a vital role in the communities they serve. They all offer basic adult education and remedial or high school equivalency programs. In addition, TCUs have become essential repositories of tribal knowledge. TCUs are similar to other two-year educational institutions in the United States in that they provide access for local students who might not otherwise receive a postsecondary education. Most tribal college students are first-generation students, and their average age, 31.5, is well above the average age of traditional college students. About two-thirds (67 percent) are women (AIHEC, 2004), and in 2002, more than half were single parents (Freeman and Fox, 2005). Overall, 41 percent attend on a part-time basis, although this varies from 84 percent on the Chief Dull Knife campus to 15 percent at the three federally chartered colleges. OPPORTUNITIES Diversity of Cultural and Social Perspectives NAE, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and engineering professional societies and stakeholder groups have all advocated increasing diversity in the U.S. engineering workforce, arguing that the paucity of women and underrepresented minorities in U.S. engineering classrooms, research laboratories, design studios, and corporate boardrooms diminishes the range of perspectives and the diversity of ideas/solutions available to the engineering profession (AAES, 2005; ASCE, 2005; ASEE, 2005; Malcolm et al., 2004; NAE, 2002). Experiences in industry and classrooms have shown that creativity increases and the range of potential solutions is expanded when teams of individuals from different personal, cultural, and disciplinary perspectives work together (Bassett-Jones, 2005; Cowan, 1995; Cox, 1993; Jackson, 1992; McLeod et al., 1996; Watson et al., 1993). In 2001, only 255 of 59,142 (less than 1 percent) of B.S. degrees in engineering were awarded to American Indian students (NSF, 2004). The engineering profession needs the perspectives of American Indians, a diverse group that encompasses 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, and reservations need the culturally relevant contributions of American Indian engineers. A Young Population with Rising Levels of Educational Attainment Following a period of major reductions in numbers in the nineteenth century, the American Indian/Alaska Native population grew rapidly, from about 237,000 in 1900 to 4.1 million, or about 1.5 percent of the total U.S. population, by April 1, 2000—a much higher rate of growth than for the U.S. population as a whole (Babco, 2003). In addition, the American Indian/Alaska Native population—one-third of which is under the age of 18—has a higher concentration of people under the age of 24 than the overall U.S. population. New data from the 2000 census show that from 1990 to 2000, the percentage of American Indian/Alaska Natives 25 years and older that had completed high school increased from almost 66 percent to 71 percent—a higher rate of high school completion than for Hispanics (52.4 percent) but lower than for the total population (80.4 percent). The higher rate of high school completion, coupled with the large proportion of individuals under the age of 18, suggests that an increasing number of American Indian students will be eligible for college in the near future. In
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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities addition, the aspirations of Native students have changed—the percentage of tenth graders who expect to complete a bachelor’s degree or higher increased from 31 to 76 percent between 1980 and 2002 (NCES, 2005). Thus, it is not surprising that enrollment in tribal colleges increased 17 percent from 1997 to 2002 (Freeman and Fox, 2005). CHALLENGES TCUs face a number of challenges, including barriers to supporting and increasing the quality and quantity of STEM courses, recruiting and retaining students and faculty, establishing ties with other academic engineering institutions and industry, and sustaining financial viability. Financial Challenges The reservations on which most TCUs are located have high unemployment rates and low per capita income rates, reflecting the wide disparities between American Indians and the general U.S. population. For a three-year period (1997–1999), the poverty rate for Natives was 25.9 percent, compared to poverty rates of 23.6 percent for black Americans, 22.8 percent for Hispanics, 10.7 percent for Asians and Pacific Islanders, and 7.7 percent for non-Hispanic whites (U.S. Census Bureau, 2000). In Montana, where seven TCUs are located, unemployment rates on reservations range from 57 to 77 percent (BIA, 2005). Common misconceptions, such as that Native students receive free educations and that Indian casinos fund tribal colleges, mask the stark reality of chronic financial underinvestment and the lack of forward funding for TCUs. In fact, fewer than one-third of federally recognized tribes in the United States have gaming operations and only a tiny percentage of Indian communities benefit from gaming; in 1999, only five TCUs received funding from gaming (AIHEC, 1999). Whereas other public institutions of higher learning have a foundation of state support, most TCUs are located on federal trust lands; hence, states have no obligation to fund them. In most cases, states do not even provide funding for the approximately 20 percent of TCU students who are non-Natives (AIHEC, 1999). Funding for TCUs4 is provided through congressional appropriations, which must be negotiated every year, and because TCUs are not forward-funded, it is difficult for them to develop long-range plans. Congress first funded the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act (the Tribal College Act) in fiscal year 1981, providing $2,831 per Indian student toward the day-to-day operations of the colleges covered under that act. In the 24 years since then, the number of colleges eligible for funding has risen to 27, and enrollments have increased by 353 percent (Goetz, 2005). Although Congress has authorized $6,000 per Indian student, actual funding per student in 2005 was $4,447, only 74 percent of the authorized level. In addition to the funds appropriated under the Tribal College Act, some programs at TCUs are funded through federal agencies. Information on these sources of funding is provided in Appendix E. 4 Two separate formulas are used to determine the amounts TCUs receive—one for Diné College, the first TCU established in the United States, and one for other schools that qualify.
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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities Quality of Facilities Of the 11 TCUs in the working group, two schools—SKC and SIPI—appear most likely to be prepared to house a four-year engineering program, if one is initiated. The facilities of other TCUs vary widely in terms of size, age of buildings, and equipment available for STEM programs. SKC has 14 buildings, including a $1.5-million science building that was designed and built by students enrolled in the college construction-trades training programs (Robbins, 2002). All major facilities at SKC are connected through a fiber-optic local area network, and the campus has 15 computer laboratories and more than 500 computers campus-wide. Students at SIPI have access to state-of-the-art facilities and equipment in a science and technology building that opened in 2003, the culmination of more than 10 years of planning and fundraising. For construction of the 72,540 square-foot building, the institution received $1 million from the state of New Mexico through a general obligation bond, $1 million through the Capital Campaign under the American Indian College Fund, and $10 million from Congress through the U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs. Recently, however, SIPI has been in the news because of a reported budget deficit of more than $1 million. Although the college receives about $5.4 million annually in federal funds, the amount has decreased slightly over the years, even as enrollment has increased. New Mexico Senator Jeff Bingaman has asked Congress for more than $410,000 to help meet some of the school’s operational expenses and is working with the Bureau of Indian Affairs to find ways to close the spending gap and put the institution back on sound financial footing. College president Joseph Martin resigned in February 2005, and the acting president reportedly is not interested in applying for the job. This situation illustrates the financial vulnerability of TCUs (Armijo, 2005). Student Readiness (Academic Preparedness) Research shows that the strongest pre-college predictor of completion of college is a high school curriculum of high academic intensity and quality. The highest level of mathematics is the strongest predictor of completion of a bachelor’s degree. Longitudinal age-cohort data show that engineering path programs must start in tenth grade, with students reading at grade level, and, at a minimum, students must be proficient beyond the Algebra 2 level (Adelman, 1999). The National Center for Educational Statistic’s National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) measures student performance in reading, mathematics, science, geography, and history at the fourth- and eighth-grade levels, and, where data are available, at the twelfth-grade level. In addition to average scores, NAEP data are expressed as achievement levels—below basic, at or above basic, at or above proficient, and advanced (Freeman and Fox, 2005). In 2003, only 16 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native fourth graders and 17 percent of eighth graders scored at or above proficient in reading, and only 17 percent of fourth graders and 15 percent of eighth graders were at or above proficient in mathematics. In addition, NAEP data show that a lower percentage of American Indian/Alaska Native students had taken advanced science and mathematics courses, such as pre-calculus, calculus and trigonometry, chemistry, physics, and advanced biology, than students of any other racial/ethnic group (Freeman and Fox, 2005). The National Commission on Excellence in Education recommends that the core academic track for high school students include at least four courses in English, three in social studies, three in science, three in mathematics, and two in a foreign language (NCEE, 1983). The
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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities percentage of Native high school graduates who completed this level of academic coursework increased from 3 percent in 1982 to 26 percent in 2000; nevertheless, Native high school graduates were less likely to have completed the core academic track than their peers in every other racial/ethnic group—48 percent for white non-Hispanic students; 44 percent for black non-Hispanic students; 38 percent of Hispanic students; and 57 percent of Asian/Pacific Island students (Freeman and Fox, 2005). Anecdotal data from TCU faculty and administrators include the following observations about the academic preparedness of students entering tribal colleges: TCUs have little control over recruitment. Only about 20 percent of entering students are really college material, especially with regard to math preparation. A great deal of developmental education must occur before most students are ready to transfer to a four-year engineering program. Many TCU students are nontraditional, typically single mothers in their 30s or older, presenting additional challenges for student success. No TCU can do an engineering program alone. There is a “disconnect” between the visions of engineering program planners and the capabilities of students currently enrolling in TCUs. TCUs that have high retention rates and whose students do well after transferring to four-year mainstream engineering programs have invested a great deal of time and resources in working with feeder high schools, running summer and weekend programs, tracking their transfer students, and providing mentors for students after they transfer. Retention Rates for Native Students One reason for developing engineering programs in TCUs is that the success rates of Native students at mainstream, four-year educational institutions have historically been very low. In fact, American Indian students have the lowest retention and graduation rates of any ethnic minority group in the country (AIHEC, 1999; Benjamin et al., 1993; Huffman, 1990). Only 11 percent of the cohort of Native twelfth graders in 1992 who were likely participants in post-secondary education had completed bachelor’s degrees as their highest degree by 2000, compared to 34 percent of white, 24 percent of black, and 34 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students (Freeman and Fox, 2005). A major reason posited for this poor success rate is that pedagogical approaches in majority educational institutions have not been successful with Native students (Pewewardy, 2002; Reyner, 1992). Although systematic data on TCU students are not available, testimony presented by tribal college educators and tribal elders at the workshop indicates that American Indian students who attend TCUs are more likely to achieve their educational goals than Native students who attend mainstream institutions directly after high school. SIPI, a tribal college that has tracked retention rates, retains 80 percent of its students through each trimester; nearby mainstream colleges report dropout rates as high as 90 percent for Native students (Robbins, 2002). A study of Native students who attended SKC and then transferred to the University of Montana showed that these students earned higher grade point averages and had higher graduation rates than Native students who had entered the university directly from high school (Zaglauer, 1993).
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Engineering Studies at Tribal Colleges and Universities Faculty and Staff Recruiting and retaining faculty and staff at tribal colleges remains a challenge for several reasons: few American Indians are qualified to teach at the post-secondary level; only a limited number of non-Natives are interested in teaching in TCUs, which are geographically isolated; and average faculty salaries ($30,241 for the 1997–1998 school year) are considerably lower than salaries at majority institutions—$45,919 at two-year mainstream institutions and $52,335 at public post-secondary institutions in 1997–1998 (Youth Policy Forum, 2005). In addition, TCUs face several other difficulties in recruiting faculty. First, because TCUs are predominantly teaching institutions, it is difficult for them to attract faculty who are interested in research. Second, the heavy teaching and counseling load of TCU faculty, along with their involvement with the tribal community and the geographic isolation of many campuses, make it difficult for faculty in TCUs to enhance their credentials. In a 2004 AIHEC survey of the faculty and staff at the “1994s” (land-grant TCUs), most respondents had bachelor’s or master’s degrees (Phillips, 2005). Eighty-one percent of respondents indicated that they wanted to advance their academic credentials, but many said they could not pursue graduate programs because of a lack of financial support and work-release time. The survey also found that Native faculty needed more home Internet access, personal computers, mentoring, transportation, and child care.
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