30 Best Colleges for Indigenous Students

Despite recent support for Native American colleges and universities, Native Americans have the lowest college enrollment rate of all ethnic groups. This is an unfortunate truth about higher education in America. Colleges still have a lot of work to do to become more accommodating to indigenous people and support indigenous communities. Ethnic background should never be an impediment to educational and career attainment.

Some American colleges are actively engaging with various ethnic groups, including indigenous communities. These schools are making significant changes that ensure Native American and indigenous students can succeed. The 30 colleges in this article are all strong examples.

Every college in America should be focused on improving the prospects of indigenous communities and students. The low representation of indigenous students on college campuses compared to other ethnic groups proves that this sadly isn’t the case. But the efforts of some colleges show that it’s possible for the status quo to change and that a more equal future could be on the horizon. The efforts of these colleges also show that there is no one way to improve the prospects of their indigenous students or communities. Instead, there are many solutions. Because of this, this ranking has not overly focused on one form of outreach or support. Instead, it takes into account a wide range of solutions that the colleges are working on.

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This ranking also considers the recent changes and commitments colleges have made to support indigenous students and communities. This information gives evidence that colleges will continue to improve their efforts for a long time.

The colleges highlighted here are strong choices for a prospective student who wants to attend a college that supports indigenous students or indigenous communities. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If that’s the case, this ranking can still be a vital resource. Each entry has a detailed summary of what the college is doing to support Native American students and/or indigenous communities. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your college options. If any college that you’re considering is supporting indigenous students and/or communities like the 30 below, then it may be a college worth attending.

Methodology

This ranking initially sourced colleges from articles that highlighted strong Native American colleges. We also included colleges with solid minority enrollment efforts across ethnic groups. We selected the strongest colleges from these sources. We then conducted research to assess ways these colleges were supporting indigenous students and communities.

The final ranking has been sorted with the following criteria:

  • Evidence of the college giving strong support to Native American students
  • Evidence of the college giving support to indigenous communities
  • Evidence of the college continuing to improve its efforts for ethnic groups
  • Evidence of innovative support
  • Combined rankings/number of mentions on the methodology sources

Here’s the ranking from 30 to one:

30. University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland

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In 2021, the University of Maryland announced several campus initiatives to boost the enrollment of full-time indigenous students. These included making Native American students feel more integrated with the wider college community. Two of these were the creation of a Native American and Indigenous cultural center and naming of a dining hall after the Piscataway Conoy Tribe. The college’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion has also provided the college’s American Indian Student Union with a grant. This college fund was earmarked to create a campaign to reduce cultural appropriation. Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native American college students. The school has articulation agreements with a dozen different community college programs in the region, making it easy for indigenous students to transfer to a four-year degree program.

Related: Top 75 Best Online Community Colleges

29. University of Wyoming

Laramie, Wyoming

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The University of Wyoming is home to the Native American Education, Research, & Cultural Center. The center provides the college and wider area with “a place of community, support, engagement, and learning, all while assisting our students in maintaining their cultural identity.” The center houses a range of advisors and support services for full time students. For wider indigenous outreach, it runs the Native American Summer Institute and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute. ISEP praises the University of Wyoming’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 Native American universities. The university offers several financial aid opportunities for its indigenous students, including the Northern Arapaho Endowment Fund Scholarship.

28. University of Montana

Missoula, Montana

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The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute benefits the University of Montana’s Native American students and collaborates with tribal colleges. A significant part of this institute is its Round Room. It’s an area that utilizes NASA technology to immerse people in interactive settings. The institute is housed in the Payne Family Native American Center. It provides further support to indigenous students, such as a student lounge and study areas. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American college students. Financial aid is available to indigenous peoples, including scholarships for Native American college students pursuing various majors.

27. Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Durant, Oklahoma

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Since 1996, Southeastern Oklahoma State has hosted the Native American Symposium. The most recent of these indigenous programs took place in November 2021. These symposiums are dedicated to promoting Native American cultural advocacy. The college also provides support to indigenous students. For instance, it is one of three colleges to run the College Freshman Year Initiative specifically for members of the Choctaw Nation. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American college students.

26. Montana State University

Bozeman, Montana

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In October 2021, Montana State celebrated the grand opening of the American Indian Hall. This 31,000-square-foot building now acts as a home for the college’s growing Native American student population. It is also a bridge between American Indian culture and all other campus cultures and ethnic groups. The college has also established several education and outreach projects for indigenous people. These include efforts to address the impact of drugs, asthma, and pollution on indigenous communities. ISEP praises Montana State’s Native American Studies program. This includes its communication efforts with indigenous communities. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students.

25. Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

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In 2020, Cornell University created the Indigenous Dispossession Project. This project will identify all groups of indigenous people affected by Cornell University’s foundation and operations. It will then reach out to these communities to discuss possible remedies for this historical injustice. The college is also proactively attempting to increase its Native American community’s size. A recent example of this was the hiring of two new experts in indigenous literature, one of whom is Native American. The other expert is an Asian American who grew up on unceded Alaskan tribal land. The expert specializes in the intersection of Native and Asian American cultures. The New York Times notes that Cornell University is currently attempting to diversify. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native students.

24. University of Alaska, Southeast

Juneau, Alaska

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To increase the number of Native American teachers, the University of Alaska, Southeast created the Preparing Indigenous Teachers & Administrators for Alaska Schools grant in 2000. This grant still exists and generally covers the cost of tuition and fees, as well as providing book cost stipends and housing stipends. The college’s Languages program is also working to revitalize three Native Alaskan languages. The college has been able to form indigenous support-related partnerships with the Sealaska Heritage Institute and several tribal populations.

23. Portland State University

Portland, Oregon

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In late 2020, Portland State announced a $75,000 grant from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission. The grant funds a collaboration with the Native American Youth and Family Center to improve indigenous student success. This initiative builds upon an impressive effort to support indigenous students. For example, the Native American Student and Community Center has been a part of the campus since 2003. The college also supports the wider indigenous community with a program that boosts the number of Native teachers. It also has an institute that aides tribal governments. Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native students.

22. University of California, Davis

Davis, California

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In 2021, the Indigenous Research Center of the Americas at the University of California, Davis celebrated its 30th anniversary. This center’s goal is “sharing knowledge and reflections on indigenous cultures and the inherent decolonial struggles for a higher level of autonomy, sovereignty, and self-determination in Native nations across the hemisphere.” Additionally, the college’s Department of Native American Studies has its roots in a program that started in 1969. ABC News notes that the University of California, Davis has acknowledged that it is based on lands once occupied by indigenous people. Winds of Change names the University of California- Davis one of the top 200 colleges for Native higher education.

21. New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

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New Mexico State’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences has run the Indian Resources Development program since the 1970s. This is thanks to the Indian Resources Development Act. The program helps indigenous high school students, entities, businesses, and college students. Native American students at New Mexico State also have the support of the American Indian Student Center. It’s a 7,500-square-foot building offering a range of programming and spaces specifically for Native American students working towards their bachelor’s degree. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native higher education.

20. Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colorado

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The Native American Cultural Center has been a part of Colorado State since 1979. It supports indigenous students and the wider indigenous community. The center’s outreach to the wider community includes a K-12 STEM Outreach program. The program offers activities in five different Native American communities. Indigenous students who enroll at the college for a bachelor’s degree can also access several financial support options. One of these is the Native American Legacy Award. This college fund allows out-of-state indigenous students to enroll for in-state prices. ABC News praises Colorado State for this award. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native higher education.

Related: Is Going To College Out of State Worth It?

19. Institute of American Indian Arts

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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In the 2020-2021 academic year, the Student Success Center at the Institute of American Indian Arts implemented a new action plan. It has two major priorities. One is improving academic support for students’ English and math abilities. The other is redesigning its approach to advice. Several other student success initiatives are being conducted by this center as well. One example is the New Freshman Summer Bridge Program. The Institute of American Indian Arts also conducts significant work with New Mexico’s 22 Native American communities. For instance, it provides agriculture education to these communities. This ensures they can enjoy stronger food security. Winds of Change names the Institute of American Indian Arts one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

18. East Central University

Ada, Oklahoma

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The hub of Native American culture and education at East Central University is the Hays Native American Study Center. This center has built several links between the college and the Chickasaw Nation. Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby has stated: “They have shown unparalleled foresight and commitment to advancing knowledge of Native American culture.” The NASNTI HERITAGE Program also gives indigenous college students the opportunity to gain research funding, internships, tutoring, and more. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native higher education.

17. Utah State University

Logan, Utah

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The American Indian Support Project is housed at Utah State’s Department of Psychology. It has been in existence since 1986. The American Indian Support Project addresses the shortage of mental health professionals who are Native American. Native American students trained in this program receive financial aid, a full-time Native American faculty member, tutoring, and more. Several other indigenous programs help Native American students enrolled in other departments. This includes the Native American Student Council, the leadership development program, and more. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native higher education.

16. University of Alaska, Anchorage

Anchorage, Alaska

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One of the most innovative indigenous outreach efforts from an American college is this university’s National Resource Center for Alaska Native Elders. The center ensures that Alaska native elders can have fulfilling lives within their communities. Indigenous students also have access to their own dedicated services. This includes the Native Early Transition Program. This is a week-long orientation program for incoming freshmen that runs one week before the start of the fall semester. After this orientation week, the program continues to support students throughout their first year of study. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American higher education.

Related: Best Colleges for Helping Homesick Students

15. University of Central Oklahoma

Edmond, Oklahoma

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The Native American Success Initiative provides many benefits to indigenous students at the University of Central Oklahoma. These include financial aid, community-building activities, advice, tuition waivers, and more. The college’s efforts to be more appealing to the indigenous community received a boost in 2016. This was the creation of the Native American Faculty & Staff Association. It launched a scholarship and proudly promoted the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native students.

14. University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Fairbanks, Alaska

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The Native American and indigenous programming at this University has been evolving since 1965. Among the most successful of these initiatives is the Center for Alaska Native Health Research. The center opened in 2001, thanks to a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. The center has managed to gain continued funding through government sources, allowing it to remain open and active in the present day. Some of the current projects that the center is working on include establishing cancer survivor groups, the development of stroke prevention and intervention programs, and an alcohol misuse program. The college’s Native American student programs include a supportive living community and a summer program that helps students adjust to college life. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native students.

13. University of Hawaii, Hilo

Hilo, Hawaii

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In 2021, David Sing was honored with a National Indian Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Sing was a pioneer in Native Hawaiian educational advancement at the University of Hawaii Hilo. He stayed with the college for 40 years. His current position as the managing partner of Educational Prism boosts Native Hawaiian education broadly. The college continues to support both indigenous students and the Native Hawaiian community. The Kipuka Native Hawaiian Student Center is home to a student development program. This program provides full-time students with peer mentorship, tutoring, academic advising, and more. It also encourages Native Hawaiian students to take part in community service activities. The college’s indigenous culture and revitalization programs are vital. They’re so important that three US representatives visited the college to gain a greater understanding of the work. The Edvocate names the University of Hawaii, Hilo one of the best colleges for minorities. Winds of Change considers the college to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native higher education.

12. The University of New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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The Center for Native American Health is housed at The University of New Mexico. The center is especially proactive in supporting both the college’s students and the wider indigenous population. As of late 2021, the center has 40 community partners, two student centers, and six ongoing community research initiatives. The college’s American Indian Student Services department has been in existence for over 40 years. This center helps Native American students through the American Indian Summer Bridge. This program helps students understand scholarships and financial aid and develop a roadmap for the future. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American higher education.

Related: Colleges With Strong Industry Connections

11. Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona

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The Office of American Indian Initiatives at Arizona State works with both enrolled students and a range of tribal communities in the State of Arizona. One of the most successful initiatives to come out of this office is the Tribal Nations Tour. The tour helps K-12 students succeed in their education. For students, this department works with the division of American Indian Student Support Services. These services have offices in four different locations across the college. Each offers full time Native American students access to staff members, cultural presentations, academic success events, study spaces, and more. The Center for Indian Education has been a part of the college since 1959. The college’s American Indian Policy Institute works to expand the economic development and growth of Native American communities. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

10. Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

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The six-year graduation rate for Native American students at Dartmouth College is an impressive 85%, Winds of Change notes. The source also names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students. The college’s long history of educating Native Americans has led to significant achievements in promoting indigenous issues in the wider world. For example, a Native American alumnus, Louise Erdrich, won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for her book The Night Watchman. The novel is about community efforts to prevent tribal displacement in the 1950s. The college continues to make changes that help its full time indigenous student body. In 2020, the college decided to replace an almost century-old weather vane that offensively depicted a Native American. The college is also working on interdisciplinary collaboration to enhance how the college teaches and presents its Native American and Indigenous collections. This is thanks to a $500,000 grant.

9. The University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

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By 2021, The University of Arizona’s researchers had engaged in over 150 projects that involved tribal communities. These ranged from community health work to archaeological discoveries. This indicates that the college is achieving its 2018 strategic plan of engaging and supporting Native American communities. Native American students enrolled in The University of Arizona are supported by the division of Native American Student Affairs. The Division offers “numerous programs to ease the transition from high school to college, to help you stay on top of your classes, and to help you make connections to the campus.” Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

8. The University of Oklahoma

Norman, Oklahoma

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When coronavirus disrupted life in the US, The University of Oklahoma’s American Indian Programs and Services Department teamed up with AT&T. Together, they offered applicable students funding to ensure greater stability. This college department routinely provides students with academic support, leadership development, and student organization advice. In 1951, the college opened the American Indian Institute. Since then, the Institute has worked to promote health, prevent disease, educate, preserve culture, develop organizations, protect rights, and promote wellness among indigenous people. Since 2015, the college has run the Native Nations Center. This center aims to foster increased relationships with Oklahoma tribes. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

7. South Dakota State

Brookings, South Dakota

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The Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State works to enhance the support of Native American students. It does this by providing scholarships for South Dakota tribal students and forming partnerships with indigenous communities. Native American students here also have the opportunity to support the wider indigenous community. For example, the college’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society won an Outreach and Community Service Award at the 2021 AISES National Conference. ABC News praises South Dakota State’s support of indigenous people. ISEP notes that a range of study programs at the college support indigenous awareness and issues. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans in the US.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

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ABC News notes several recent changes that support Native American students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. These are likely to be the first steps of a wider effort. Some of these changes include the creation of a campus space for Native American students and the decision to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Winds of Change also names the college one of the 200 best colleges for Native American students. The New York Times notes that the college has increased its full time minority student enrollment in 2021. To support the wider indigenous community, the college also ran a $10,000 fellowship grant. The grant invited indigenous innovators to submit solutions to improve their communities. Seven projects were finally chosen for this fellowship. One project included implementing hydroponic farms to increase food security among the Navajo Nation. Another was a program to ethically track the dog population at the Pine Ridge Reservation.

5. Northern Arizona University

Flagstaff, Arizona

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The Office of Indigenous Student Success at Northern Arizona University grew from a program that began in 1994. Today, it runs a range of services, such as counseling and peer mentoring, to help full time Native American students. The college also performs a range of outreach efforts through the Native American Cultural Center. In 2021, this center celebrated its 10th anniversary. The center is administered by The Office of Native American Initiatives. The Office also runs separate programming that supports indigenous people. This includes the Institute for Native-serving Educators, the Tribal Leadership Initiative, and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. ISEP praises Northern Arizona University’s Native American support. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

4. University of North Carolina, Pembroke

Pembroke, North Carolina

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Thanks to a $1.5 million federal grant in 2020, the support that the University of North Carolina, Pembroke provides to full time Native American students is only going to improve. This money created the American Indian Heritage Center. The center helps both indigenous and non-indigenous college community members. Some examples of the center’s programming include the Indigenous Power Hour Series and the American Indian Career Network. Empowering Native American students and their communities has always been a strong part of the University of North Carolina, Pembroke’s identity. The college was founded to educate Native Americans, which ISEP highlights. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

3. University of Minnesota

Twin Cities, Minnesota

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In late 2021, the University of Minnesota announced its most ambitious effort to boost its full time indigenous student population. It said that Native Americans would be able to attend college tuition-free or receive “substantial financial support.” On campus, the college also provides support to Native American students via the Circle of Indigenous Nations. The college is also reaching out to the wider indigenous community through the Minnesota Indigenous Leadership Network. The Network acts to strengthen partnerships with rural and urban Native American communities in Minnesota. ABC News also notes that the University of Minnesota is working on documenting and amending prior wrongs toward indigenous Americans. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 Native American colleges.

2. Northeastern State University

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

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ISEP notes that Northeastern State has the highest Native American population of any US college. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans in the US. Full time Native American college students who enroll at Northeastern State have several resources to support them such as the Center for Tribal Studies. Additionally, the college’s Center for Indigenous Community Engagement and the Indigenous History and Literary Project work to provide outreach to and improve the education of indigenous people.

1. Fort Lewis College

Durango, Colorado

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The full-time Native American student population at Fort Lewis College is supported by the Native American Center. This center helps students with cultural, social, academic, and transitional issues. Members of a Native American Tribe/Alaskan Native Village and their descendants can attend the college tuition-free, thanks to a Native American college-run scholarship. ISEP considers Fort Lewis College’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program one of the best Native American studies programs in the country. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native American college students.

Related Resources:

Sources:

  • Winds of Change, The Top 200 Colleges for Indigenous Students
  • ISEP, Native and Indigenous Serving Institutions in the ISEP Community
  • Collegexpress, 4-Year Colleges With the Largest Enrollment of Native American or Alaska Native Students
  • The New York Times, After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes
  • ABC News, For Native Americans, Harvard and other colleges fall short
  • The Edvocate, 2022 Best And Worst Colleges For Minorities