Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) were created to provide an opportunity for Native Americans to gain access to higher education. The first TCU was the Diné College established in 1968 (Diné College website, 2019). Later, the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Assistance Act of 1978 provided permanent funding to institutions whose student population is a majority of federally recognized tribal members. Tribal Colleges and Universities have provided a variety of curricula that addresses several needs such as general education, cultural identity, business, science, education, arts, and healthcare. Today, there are thirty-seven TCUs across the United States (AIHEC website, 2019) that continue their individual missions to promote Native American culture and education. Of these institutions, five offer a master’s degree, nine offer a bachelor’s degree, and the remaining twenty-three offer associate degrees (AIHEC website, 2019).
While the TCUs provide the opportunity for tribal members to gain access to higher education, the majority of these institutions offer associate degrees. This means that most TCU students seeking bachelor’s and master’s degrees will have to transfer to mainstream colleges or universities to obtain that degree. The challenge for TCU leadership regarding both faculty and administration is two-fold. There are limited credentialed Native faculty, and the graduate programs from which both Native and non-Native faculty and administrators come from are not sensitive to the needs of Native American cultural leadership. As we see this phenomenon develop in TCUs, we are also seeing this same lack of a Native American Leadership training within our tribal governments and business entities.
Tribal Colleges and Universities continue to support the needs of its students and its mission to perpetuate Native American culture. The focus of TCUs should also look to expand to create leadership for individuals looking to go into tribal leadership and create more advanced degree programs for those going into higher education leadership. As the focus of accrediting institutions has recently concentrated on faculty credentials, many TCUs are being affected by the pressure of this specific challenge. Tribal governments and business entities have faced these challenges for decades before the existence of TCUs.
Today, as tribal nations must assert their sovereignty on many issues within the United States legal system or the economic structure of the states within their boundaries, it is more imperative than ever to have strong tribal leadership. The role of TCUs has made an incredible impact on Indian Country by supporting the educational and cultural needs of many students and graduates. The evolution of TCUs should be to create leaders within tribal communities through an intentional curriculum focused on a Native American leadership model. A focused leadership model for Native American leaders would take into account the specific cultural practices of each tribe combined with theory and skills development. Native American leaders were traditionally identified early, some through family lineage, but then mentored with a variety of teaching methods. Aspiring leaders exhibited the qualities of compassion and were created by giving the tools necessary to decide and act for the best interest of the people. These core values are still needed in tribal leadership, but also need to be supplemented with the skills to operate services and economies for the tribe.
Likewise, at the TCUs, leadership succession plans are needed to ensure executive level administrators are ready to step in as current leadership transitions to retirement. Also, more advanced degrees offered at TCUs would facilitate the resolution of this need with the development of leadership degree programs. This is the critical next step for TCUs in their development as the changemakers in the lives of tribal members. Both TCUs and tribal nations could benefit greatly with a more focused vision on creating and maintaining Native American leadership programs.
Monte Randall is Muscogee (Creek), from the Talladega Tribal Town, and Deer Clan. Monte is the Dean of Academic Affairs at the College of the Muscogee Nation where he serves on numerous committees including accreditation, curriculum, and graduation. Also, he has served as the project director for numerous grants including, the National Science Foundation, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture. He is a 2017-18 Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellow, who serves his community as a board member of the Glenpool Schools Indian Education Parent Committee, as a community leader, and Chief Executive Officer and founder of a nonprofit men’s mentoring organization.
Monte is a veteran of the United States Navy and the Oklahoma Army National Guard. He is a graduate of Haskell Indian Nations University with a B.S. in Business Administration, the University of Oklahoma with an M.A. in Native American Studies, and Oral Roberts University with an Ed.D. in Higher Education Administration. His dissertation was titled, “The Effect of a Life Skills Curriculum on the Problem Solving Abilities of Tribal College Students.” He has conducted numerous hours of research of the literature on life skills, self-esteem, resiliency, problem-solving, Native American historical trauma, and domestic violence. He is a contributor to the Tribal College Journal and regularly presents within the community as an advocate for education, youth programs, Native American culture, positive male role models, and ending violence against women.