Tribal Colleges and Universities

Facts and figures related to Tribal Colleges and Universities.

Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) are institutions that foster American Indian culture, language and tradition and serve a diverse group of 100,000 individuals each year in academic and community-based programs.  TCUs are funded primarily through Title III of the Higher Education Act, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Education, and the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act of 1978, which is administered by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.  TCU funds allow institutions to purchase new scientific equipment, build libraries, educate students on tribal public policy, provide counseling services to improve financial and economic literacy of students, improve facilities for internet use, support faculty development, establish or improve a program of teacher education with emphasis on teaching Indian children and establish community outreach programs that encourage Indian children to pursue postsecondary education.

There are currently 37 designated TCUs in the United States, the vast majority of which are located in the Midwest and Southwest.  Of these 37 TCUs, 34 are Title-IV eligible and accredited by mainstream accreditation organizations.  TCUs are chartered by tribal governments and serve students from more than 230 federally-recognized tribes.

In 1968, the Navajo Nation established the first tribally controlled college, now known as Diné College.  While TCUs started as two-year institutions, as of 2014, 12 Title-IV eligible TCUs offered bachelor’s degrees and a handful offered master’s degrees.

In general, TCUs have open admission practices and most are located on reservations.  While they vary in size, focus and location, individual tribal identity is deeply embedded in every institution.  They are often the only postsecondary option for students in some of the most rural and poorest communities and, as such, they tend to offer a broad range of social services to meet student needs.


  • The 37 TCUs serve about 28,000 full- or part-time students annually .
  • In Fall 2014, the 34 Title-IV eligible TCUs enrolled 17,879 students, an increase from 13,680 students in Fall 2000.
  • Of these nearly 18,000 students, 79 percent were considered American Indian/Alaska Natives, a percentage that has been increasing annually.
  • 7 percent of all American Indian college students attended a TCU in the fall of 2010.
  • Many American Indian students are non-traditional students, which means that they tend to be older than the average college student, have dependents and work full-time. TCUs are designed to provide the flexibility these students need to be successful.
  • In Fall 2011, more than 50 percent of TCU students were over the age of 25.
  • In 2012, 35 percent of TCU students were single parents, 63 percent were female and 40 percent attended on a part-time basis.


  • The 34 Title-IV eligible TCUs awarded 1,266 associates degrees and 295 bachelor’s degrees to American Indians/Alaska Natives in 2013-14.
  • The TCUs that offer bachelor’s degrees conferred 88 percent of all bachelor’s degrees earned by American Indian/Alaska Native students in 2012.
  • TCUs conferred 78.5 percent of all associate’s degrees earned by American Indian/Alaska Native students in 2012.
  • On average, 86 percent of TCU students complete their chosen program of study while fewer than 10 percent of American Indian students at non-TCU schools complete a degree.
  • TCUs’ academic programs often target fields that are of particular interest to American Indian students, including fields related to tribal economic development.
  • TCUs strive to keep tuition low. In 2013-2014, the average net price of a TCU was $7,016 per year, compared to the average net price of $9,574 for community colleges nationwide.
  • Still, given that 58 percent of TCU students qualify for a Pell grant, compared to 39 percent of students nationwide, even low tuition prices present financial barriers.
  • Many TCUs provide community services to their local populations. These services include diabetes education and prevention, HIV education, daycare and child health centers, libraries, computer centers, indigenous research, language preservation classes, community activities and lifelong learning programs.



American Council on Education Issue Brief

American Indian College Fund

American Indian Higher Education Consortium

Digest of Education Statistics (Table 312.50)

National Indian Education Association

The Path of Many Journeys: The Benefits of Higher Education for Native People and Communities

Redefining Success: How Tribal Colleges and Universities Build Nations, Strengthen Sovereignty and Persevere through Challenges

White House Initiative on American Indian and Alaska Native Education


Updated January 2017