In this article, we profile the top 30 tribal colleges of 2021.
Tribal colleges and universities provide higher education to the members of Native American tribes in their geographic region. Most tribal colleges are located on, or near, the American Indian Reservation they serve. While some tribal institutions are community colleges, others exist as universities and offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs.
30 Top Tribal Colleges Methodology
With a limited number of tribal colleges, we reviewed all 37 fully accredited institutions. We also looked at more schools in application status pending accreditation. We visited reputable online sources listing all Native American colleges. To formulate our ranking, we examined graduation rate and affordability. Criteria were gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics – NCES College Navigator. We then listed the programs according to graduation rate. The school with the highest graduation rate earned a spot in our #1 position.
Below are the resulting selections for our top 30 tribal colleges of 2021.
#30 – Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College
New Town, North Dakota
Graduation Rate: 3%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,870
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College is one of several tribal colleges committed to an open-door policy in an effort to provide access to quality higher education. Founded in 1973, the institution is responsible for postsecondary education on the Fort Berthold Reservation. NHS offers three bachelor degree programs along with several two-year associate and certificate programs in several in-demand fields and disciplines. The college is accredited by the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges to confer degrees and certificates. Bachelor degree offerings include elementary education, environmental studies, and native studies. Popular associate degree programs include business administration, early childhood education, and social work.
#29 – Oglala Lakota College
Kyle, South Dakota
Graduation Rate: 4%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,684
A leader among Native American colleges, Oglala Lakota College was one of the first tribally controlled colleges in the United States, and currently offers degrees at all levels, including associate, bachelor, and master. The institution was designated a Beating the Odds institution in 2011 by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in recognition of conferring a high level of bachelor and master degrees. Initially a community college, the institution awarded its first associate degree in 1974 and was accredited in 1983. Today, the college offers several degrees in majors such as business administration, early childhood education, information technology, and Lakota leadership and management.
#28 – White Earth Tribal and Community College
Graduation Rate: 6%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,232
White Earth Tribal and Community College lands at #28 on our list of tribal colleges, with strong graduation rates and affordable tuition. White Earth is a member of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the National Association of Land Grant Institutions. Founded in 1979 as a partner to Moorehead State University, the institution went on to achieve its own accreditation in October of 2008 and offers a wide variety of associate degree programs designed for immediate employment or transfer to a four-year institution. The institution is committed to educational equity through its open-door admission policy. Popular degree tracks include elementary education, environmental science, human services, and more.
#27 – Sisseton Wahpeton College
Sisseton, South Dakota
Graduation Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,510
Sisseton Wahpeton College appears on our list of tribal colleges and universities due to its affordable tuition rates and strong academic outcomes. As a 1994 Land Grant Institution, the college is committed to providing the people of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate with postsecondary education, job training, and continuing education. The institution maintains an open-door admission policy that allows individuals with a high school diploma or GED to have access to education. The college offers several associate in science and associate in arts degree programs in majors such as business administration, computer systems technology, early childhood development, and sustainable environmental studies.
#26 – Leech Lake Tribal College
Class Lake, Minnesota
Graduation Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,198
Established in 1990, Leech Lake Tribal College makes our list of top 30 tribal colleges. The institution earned full accreditation status from the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association in 2006 to confer associate degrees to those who successfully complete all graduation requirements. Leech Lake has an open-door admission policy that means anyone with a high school diploma or GED can enroll at the institution. Leech Lake offers several areas of study for its students, such as business management, earth systems science, law enforcement, and liberal arts – STEM. In addition to coursework, students receive a wide range of support services, such as advising, tutoring, career counseling, and student activities.
#25 – Sinte Gleska University
Mission, South Dakota
Graduation Rate: 7%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,154
Sinte Gleska University comes in at #25 on our list of top Native American colleges due to its commitment to serving students and the community with regard to their educational and vocational needs. The institution was founded in 1970 and offers associate, bachelor and master degree programs. SGU is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission to confer the degrees listed in its academic catalog. The institution offers it degrees through multiple academic departments featuring majors in arts and sciences, education, human services, information technology, and more. Financial aid in the form of grants, scholarships, and loans is available to those who qualify. Several Student organizations are available as part of the student life at SGU.
#24 – Stone Child College
Box Elder, Montana
Graduation Rate: 10%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,645
Stone Child College lands on our list at #24 of tribal colleges and universities. The institution is a two-year community college committed to open access admission to those with a high school diploma or GED. The college is tribally controlled and was chartered on May 17, 1984. SCC is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is an accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and U.S. Department of Education. The college offers several associates of arts and science majors as well as one bachelor’s degree in elementary education. All American Indian students who are enrolled members of federally-recognized tribes within the United States must provide certification of Indian blood quantum for documentation.
#23 – Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
Graduation Rate: 10%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,210
Tribal colleges and universities such as Saginaw Chippewa Tribal College are recognized on this list due to their strong graduation rates and affordable tuition. The institution was ratified as a tribally controlled college in 1998 and became an accredited institution in 2007. From its humble beginnings with one office, two classrooms, and one computer lab, the college has gone on to serve thousands of students. The institution offers transfer-friendly associate degrees in business, liberal arts, Native American studies, and science – all designed to transfer to a four-year baccalaureate institution. SCTC serves the Isabella Reservation and the greater Mount Pleasant area, along with a secondary area on the Saganing Reservation.
#22 – Diné College
Graduation Rate: 12%
Undergraduate Tuition: $1,410
Known as the first tribally controlled and accredited college in the United States, Diné College is well known among other Native American colleges. Established in 1968 as Navajo Community College, Diné serves a geographic region spanning over 27,000 square miles that span three states (Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico). The institution confers certificate, associate, and bachelor degrees in various careers and disciplines through its School of Arts, Humanities and English; School of Business and Social Science; School of Diné Studies; and School of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. Diné is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission of North Central Association of College and Schools.
#21 – Sitting Bull College
Fort Yates, North Dakota
Graduation Rate: 13%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,010
Located on the Standing Rock Reservation in North Dakota, Sitting Bull College, formerly known as Standing Rock Community College, has been assisting students in achieving their educational goals since its inception in 1973 when it first opened its doors in the Douglas Skye Memorial Retirement Complex in Fort Yates with just three full-time staff. Today, the college offers a robust academic catalog featuring 15 associate degrees, eight bachelor degrees, and master’s degrees in education and science. Sitting Bull maintains its original open-door policy of allowing admission to any person with a high school diploma or GED upon successful completion of an application.
#20 – Little Big Horn College
Crow Agency, Montana
Graduation Rate: 13%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,200
Breaking into the top 20 on our list of top tribal colleges, Little Big Horn College was chartered in 1980 with an enrollment of just 32 students. Today, Little Big Horn serves several hundred students and offers eight associate degrees preparing students for employment or direct transfer to a four-year college or university. In addition to the associate degree offerings, the college offers seven certificate programs in in-demand fields and occupations such as accounting, information systems, and tribal management. The institution provides all federal financial aid programs except student loans to those who qualify. Little Big Horn maintains an open-door admission policy that allows anyone with a GED or high school diploma to enroll at the institution.
#19 – United Tribes Technical College
Bismarck, North Dakota
Graduation Rate: 15%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,252
As one of the top Native American colleges, United Tribes Technical College has served thousands of students from over 75 tribes over the past 50 years. Since earning its initial accreditation through the Higher Learning Commission in 1982, UTCC has also been a tribal college innovator and was the first tribal college to offer fully online degree programs. The institution offers 20 distinct educational pathways, from certificates to bachelor’s degrees. Popular majors include automotive technology, business administration, computer information technology, graphic design, and pre-engineering. In addition to financial aid and scholarships, UTTC offers a full tuition waiver to full-time students who are members of a federally recognized American Indian Tribe.
#18 – Blackfeet Community College
Graduation Rate: 15%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,370
Chartered by the Blackfeet Tribal Business Council in 1974, Blackfeet Community College has grown into one of the top tribal colleges and universities serving thousands of students each term as they pursue their educational goals. The institution is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities, which is an accepted accreditation by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation and the U.S. Department of Education. Through its six academic units, BCC offers over 20 certificates and degrees in majors ranging from accounting and agri-business to health science and nursing. Blackfeet has an open-door admission policy allowing students with a GED or high school diploma to enroll.
#17 – Fort Peck Community College
Graduation Rate: 15%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,250
Chartered in 1978 by the Fort Peck Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Reservation, Fort Peck Community College has grown into one of the top tribal colleges in the country through its track record of academic achievement and affordable programs. Accredited by the Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities, all educational programs are designed to support the 11,000 residents of northeast Montana. All degree pathways are designed to improve the economic standing of its graduates through increased employability and personal development. The institution offers several associates of arts, science, and applied science programs in in-demand fields. Financial aid is available to those who qualify.
#16 – Navajo Technical University
Crownpoint, New Mexico
Graduation Rate: 16%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,070
What began as the Navajo Skill Center in 1979 has grown into one of the premier schools on our list of tribal colleges: Navajo Technical University. Grounded in the Dine Philosophy of Education, the university seeks to help its students and the surrounding community to self-actualize through innovative programs designed to promote employability, knowledge acquisition, and community service. NTU offers several dozen degree and certificate pathways such as automotive technology, counseling, creative writing and new media, and management information systems. Students can enter with a high school diploma or GED and exit the university with a master’s degree. NTU is an open-enrollment university that allows students with a HS diploma or GED to enroll.
#15 – Tohono O’odham Community College
Graduation Rate: 17%
Undergraduate Tuition: $932
Ranking #15 on our list of top tribal colleges and universities, Tohono O’odham Community College was designated a full land grant institution in 2004 and earned its full accreditation in 2005 after being chartered in 1998. TOCC’s graduation rate is far above the national norm for tribal institutions and also has one of the lowest tuition rates of any institution in Arizona. Today, TOCC offers several direct employment and transfer degrees in a wide variety of fields such as computer information systems, digital media, and electrical systems. Tohono O’odham’s admission policy reflects its open-door policy that allows students to enroll with a high school diploma or GED.
#14 – Northwest Indian College
Graduation Rate: 19%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,840
Initially chartered as Lummi Community College in 1983, Northwest Indian College is now the only accredited tribal college serving Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. It is now known nationally as one of the top tribal colleges and universities in the country. After earning its initial accreditation from the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities in 1993, the college now offers a wide variety of associate and bachelor degrees in high-demand fields such as business and entrepreneurship, chemical dependency, native environmental science, public and tribal administration, and more. In addition to its main campus located on the Lummi Reservation, Northwest Indian College has six fully functional satellite campuses located throughout Western Washington and Southwest Idaho.
#13 – Cankdeska Cikana Community College
Fort Totten, North Dakota
Graduation Rate: 20%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,300
Like many Native American colleges, Cankdeska Cikana Community College started out with humble beginnings. After being chartered in 1974 due to the growing demand for postsecondary education, the college has grown into a fully accredited two-year institution accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers 15 degrees that prepare students for the workforce employed in livable wage jobs or transfer to a four-year institution where they can pursue bachelor and master degrees. Featured programs include early childhood education, fine arts, natural resource management, pre-nursing, and pre-engineering. In addition to coursework, students at CCCC receive comprehensive support through advising, career counseling, tutoring, and extracurricular opportunities.
#12 – Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute
Albuquerque, New Mexico
Graduation Rate: 22%
Undergraduate Tuition: $1,095
After opening its doors in August of 1971, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute has become one of the best tribal colleges in the country due to its strong academic focus and dedication to student success. SIPI accepts students through verification of tribal affiliation, a high school diploma or GED, and one-quarter percent or more blood quantum of a federally recognized tribe. The institution offers a variety of applied science vocational degrees as well as liberal arts associate degrees. Vocational offerings are designed to prepare graduates for immediate employment in a specific field upon graduation. Liberal arts degrees prepare students to transfer to a four-year institution. Popular majors include accounting, culinary arts, and geospatial information technology.
#11 – Nebraska Indian Community College
Graduation Rate: 25%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,080
Ranking just outside the top ten on our list of tribal colleges, Nebraska Indian Community College has been dedicated to educating native people for the past 40 years through relevant programs and unwavering support. The institution maintains an open-door policy to allow students access to quality postsecondary education and training. Students with a GED or high school diploma are eligible to apply. NICC currently offers eight associate degrees and one certificate program. The associate degree pathways are designed to transfer to a four-year institution or move directly into the workforce upon graduation. Majors include business, human services, Native American Studies, and more.
#10 – Bay Mills Community College
Graduation Rate: 25%
Undergraduate Tuition: $3,320
As one of only three Native American controlled colleges in Michigan, Bay Mills Community College has served the region faithfully since being chartered in 1984 and earning the designation of a land grant institution in 1994. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, Bay Mills is committed to open access to higher education through its open admission policy that allows students with a high school diploma or GED to enroll. BMCC offers credentials from short-term diplomas and certificates all the way up to a bachelor’s degree. The institution is committed to offering relevant programs that enrich students’ lives and offer promising employment prospects.
#9 – College of Menominee Nation
Graduation Rate: 27%
Undergraduate Tuition: $6,200
Ranked among the top tribal colleges and universities, the College of Menominee Nation was chartered by the Menominee people in 1993 and authorized as a land grant institution the following year. Menominee is a baccalaureate institution that confers certificates, diplomas, associate degrees, and bachelor’s degrees in select disciplines and majors. Bachelor degree majors include business administration, early childhood education, education, and public administration. Popular associate degree programs include biological sciences, digital media, and pre-engineering. The open-door admission policy means potential students in the region are able to enroll in classes by providing proof of a high school diploma or GED. Financial aid and scholarships are available to those who qualify.
#8 – Turtle Mountain Community College
Belcourt, North Dakota
Graduation Rate: 28%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,250
Turtle Mountain is one of the original six tribal colleges established in the 1970s. Chartered in 1972, Turtle Mountain has grown into a regional force that benefits the people in the area through education, training, and economic development. From its humble beginnings in an office on the second floor of a Catholic convent, Turtle Mountain now has multiple campuses that have served thousands of students of all ages. Degree offerings range from diplomas to bachelor degrees. Bachelor degree offerings include leadership and management and teacher education. Featured associate degrees include accounting technician, building construction technology, business administration, and cyber security.
#7 – Ilisagvik College
Graduation Rate: 29%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,300
As one of the few Alaskan tribal colleges and universities, Ilisagvik College plays an integral role in the region’s educational attainment and economic development. The institution offers dozens of degree programs in high-demand fields that lead to livable-wage occupations that bring fulfillment, social mobility, and pride. Majors include, but are limited to, accounting, allied health, business management, dental therapy, and information technology. The open-door admission policy ensures anyone with a GED or high school diploma may enroll. As an accredited institution, students have access to state and federal financial aid to help pay for a portion or all of their educational expenses.
#6 – Aaniiih Nakoda College
Graduation Rate: 29%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,410
Landing at number six on our list of top Native American colleges, Aaniiih Nakoda College offers students with a high school diploma or GED upward economic mobility through postsecondary education. The mission of the institution is to provide quality education to the residents of the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation and the neighboring communities. The institution is fully accredited to confer degrees to those who successfully complete all graduation requirements. Students receive full wrap around services such as academic and career counseling, tutoring, financial aid, and more. With dozens of certificates, associate degrees, and bachelor degrees to choose from, students will find something that meets their needs.
#5 – College of the Muscogee Nation
Graduation Rate: 31%
Undergraduate Tuition: $6,600
Breaking into the top 5 on our list of tribal colleges, the College of Muscogee Nation is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and serves the people of the Muscogee tribe as well as other tribal members. The campus sits on 32 acres and houses administrative buildings, classrooms, and student housing. Construction of a student center has also been recently completed. The college offers a total of six distinct associate degrees including criminal justice, gaming, general studies, Native American studies, natural resources, and tribal services. The institution boasts an exceptional graduation rate along with affordable tuition, making it an excellent value.
#4 – Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College
Graduation Rate: 32%
Undergraduate Tuition: $5,461
Ranked #4 on our list of tribal colleges, Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1987 and received its official charter that same year. Today, the institution is a comprehensive community college offering several degrees as well as comprehensive student services including advising, housing, financial aid, career counseling, student clubs, collegiate athletics, and more. The college currently offers well over 50 associate degrees that prepare the student for transfer to a four-year institution or to enter the workforce upon graduation. Popular majors include business, corrections, elementary education, nursing, and social work. FDLTCC maintains an open-door admission institution, inviting anyone with a GED or high school diploma to attend.
#3 – Chief Dull Knife College
Lake Deer, Montana
Graduation Rate: 44%
Undergraduate Tuition: $2,260
Chief Dull Knife College enters into the top three of our list of top tribal colleges and universities. The institution boasts an excellent graduation rate and affordable tuition, which makes it an excellent choice for those living in its service area. Originally chartered in 1975, the school is now fully accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and offers an array of associate degree programs designed for workforce readiness or academic transfer to a 4-year institution. Along with a full menu of student services to promote academic success in the classroom, Chief Dull Knife also offers a rich student life with sports and clubs to facilitate community and relationship building.
#2 – Haskell Indian Nations University
Graduation Rate: 46%
Undergraduate Tuition: $480
Landing just outside the top spot of our list of Native American colleges, Haskell Indian Nations University goes back as far as 1884 when it specialized in agricultural training for children in grades 1-5. The institution began offering junior college coursework in 1970 and became a university in 1993. Today, the university serves more than 1,000 students per semester with a diverse student population from federally recognized tribes all over the United States. Haskell is divided into distinct academic units such as the Schools of Business, Education, Humanities, and Natural and Social Sciences. Students are able to choose from a wide range of associate and bachelor degree programs.
#1 – Salish Kootenai College
Graduation Rate: 52%
Undergraduate Tuition: $4,311
Ranked as the number one institution on our list of tribal colleges, Salish Kootenai College has gone on to award thousands of associate and bachelor degrees. The college first opened its doors in 1977 and now enrolls nearly one thousand students every semester. The diverse population includes tribal members, descendants, and people of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. Today, students can choose from dozens of workforce, transfer, and bachelor degrees in high demand fields such as bookkeeping, business management, dental assisting technology, digital design, psychology, and much more. The college has a long track record of success of helping students earn their degree and move on to successful careers.
Frequently Asked Questions
What are tribal colleges?
Tribal colleges and universities were established over the last 50 years in an effort to provide Native American Indians with the ability to pursue postsecondary education. They often serve geographically isolated populations with very limited access to education beyond high school. As such, they have become very integral parts of the communities in which they reside. Native American culture is interwoven throughout each institution’s curriculum, practices, and guiding principles. Many institutions follow the Diné Philosophy of Education, grounded in Navajo traditions that combine values in accordance with the natural cycles of the world such as day and night and the various seasons.
Every tribal college has been chartered by the tribal government that oversees it. Since the inception of the tribal college model, enrollment has increased exponentially. Many institutions started out from very humble beginnings, often with just a handful of students in one or two rooms. Today, tribal colleges throughout the United States serve over 30,000 students with various enrollments ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. Most students served by these institutions face several barriers, such as high rates of unemployment and poverty, with over 75% of students being Pell Grant eligible. To make postsecondary education attainable, nearly all tribal colleges have an open admission policy allowing any student with a GED or high school diploma to enroll.
Who funds tribal colleges?
Because state governments are not obligated to fund tribal colleges, these institutions often face funding challenges as they attempt to serve students within their communities. States including Arizona, North Dakota, and Montana do provide some state funding, while the others do not. Federal funding makes up the most significant portion of monies allocated to tribal colleges. Established in 1978, the University Assistance Act established a series of methods and means through which tribal colleges receive federal dollars. Title I currently distributes funds to two-thirds of tribal institutions through a formula based on the number of Native American students enrolled. The maximum $6,000 per student up to a total of $40 million. Title I funding is not allocated for non-Native American students. In addition to Title I funding, Title II, III, and IV funding is available for both operating and capital expenses along with economic development projects.
There are four major funding streams that allocate dollars to nearly all 32 accredited institutions. Funds are managed by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. To make up for the lack of state funds, tribal institutions perform outreach in an effort to secure private donations from local, regional, and national organizations that help buttress financial shortfalls.
How many tribal colleges are there in the United States?
While the number has fluctuated during periods of growth and retraction, there are currently 37 fully accredited tribal colleges with more in application status to earn accreditation. These institutions offer nearly 400 total programs ranging from short-term diplomas and certificates, to masters degrees. Approximately half of all programs are associate degrees that are designed to prepare the graduate to continue studies toward a bachelor’s degree or enter the workforce in a specific career.
As the only postsecondary institutions in the regions in which they are located, tribal colleges serve a diverse population of students of all ages from young adults to senior citizens. Surrounding areas are often plagued by high levels of poverty and unemployment, making tribal colleges integral to carrying out not just educational services, but crucial social services.
Most tribal colleges and universities are located in the Southwest and Midwest, with enrollment at approximately 30,000 students attending either full- or part-time. Established in 1968, Diné College was the first accredited and tribally controlled postsecondary institution in the United States. Originally named Navajo Community College, the institution is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and is lead by President Dr. Charles “Monty” Roessel.
If you are not a member of the tribes it serves, can you attend a tribal college?
When it comes to enrolling at a tribal college or university, an applicant’s native status can impact the process in multiple ways. Most institutions have open-door admission policies and allow those with a GED or high school diploma to enroll. Some institutions follow strict guidelines and only allow students from that are members of a federally recognized tribe, or are the biological child of a member, to enroll. These types of institutions require students show proper documentation proving their status. Other tribal colleges allow non-native students to apply to the college and enroll in courses. The situation is complex, as these institutions do not receive funding for non-native students, further exacerbating already stretched budgets. As such is the case, most tribal colleges are made up of mainly Native American students.
Tribal colleges serve mostly non-traditional female students. Traditional colleges and universities serve students ages 18-24, with a slight majority being female. The composition of student bodies at tribal colleges is vastly different. The average age is 31.5, with the vast majority being female. The typical tribal college student is described as a single mother in her early thirties. This demographic make up does vary by institution. For example, Sissetone Wahpeton Community College serves 76% females, compared to just 46% at Haskell Indian Nations University.
How are tribal colleges different than other colleges?
There are several salient differences between tribal and non-tribal colleges. The foremost difference would be the cultural influences that drive traditions and practices. Tribal colleges purposefully infuse their institutions with native traditions, customs, and artifacts that represent their way of life. Because the vast majority of students at tribal colleges are either members of a federally recognized tribe or a child of a member, having a familiar culture is critical to student success.
In an attempt to provide a global education that is useful outside of a specific region, tribal colleges also attempt to balance Native culture in a way that is harmonious with Western cultural traditions and practices. Non-native institutions are mainly European cultural spaces that serve a majority of white students.
Tribal colleges and universities also differ in their admission practices. Nearly all tribal institutions have open-door admission policies that allow students with a high school diploma or GED to enroll, this is analogous to the community college system. Whereas tribal colleges allow great access to postsecondary education and training, most non-native institutions have selective admission processes that evaluate students on various components such as standardized test scores, high school grades, letters of recommendation, and admission essays.