By Janeeí Doxtator-Andrews
Throughout history, higher education was reserved for the elite and excluded many based on gender, religion, race and economics. American Indians were no exception and often experienced harsh conditions.
While the 20th century’s social and economic changes helped to transform higher education into a gateway for women, minorities and other classes, only 1 percent of American Indians are enrolled in colleges and universities today. This poses a problem for our Native people in a society where higher education is thought to be a widespread commitment to equal opportunity and social mobility.
Tribal leadership sought ways to improve the lives of our Native people and to create economically sustainable communities while preserving culture and language through education. Accepting the large undertaking in 1989, the American Indian College Fund (AICF) was originally founded in New York, before relocating to Denver, and raised financial support for tribal colleges and universities and for American Indian student scholarships.
Tribal colleges and universities were and still are crucial resources that encourage academic achievement, cultural identity and create change in Native communities. In collaboration with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, the AICF leveraged donations to build and renovate tribal colleges and universities throughout Indian Country in the early 2000s and established the Sovereign Nations Scholarship Fund Endowment with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community.
The AICF also provides skills and training through its internship programs, giving those students who face financial hardships the opportunity to explore their chosen career paths while earning a wage. In addition to student scholarships and internships, the AICF also provides fellowships for educators seeking terminal degrees. Developing professional networks and confidence to enter the workforce or apply for graduate school has been significant for the AICF and the Native students and educators it serves.
By its 25th anniversary, the fund had exceeded limits and continued to rise. The nonprofit built intellectual capital of TCUs, established scholarship funds, created leadership programs and early childhood development centers as well as been awarded millions to support American Indian education.
With its credo, “Educating the Mind and Spirit,” the fund is the premier scholarship organization for Native students. Providing scholarships and support for the nation’s 34 tribal colleges, the fund now receives top ratings as it provides more than 3,500 Native students with scholarships annually.
Cheryl Crazy Bull, AICF President and CEO, said, “The future is bright for all of the students we serve through the American Indian College Fund because of our commitment to their successful attainment of their educational dreams.” The Fund has been the nonprofit organization assisting Native people to realize their academic potential. Governed by a board of trustees comprised mostly of TCU presidents, the AICF’s drive comes from understanding where our Native people have been and where we are going. Today, American Indians experience lower-than-average rates of higher education attainment, at just over 13 percent, as compared to 26 percent for other groups.
“Our expanded support of student success that includes mentoring, internships, career education and college readiness means more students are equipped to navigate the challenging environment of post-secondary education. Considering a changing political environment, our dedication to the prosperity of this nation’s tribal college and universities is even more important. We look forward to bringing more resources from our allies and supporters to the good work that tribal colleges do in our communities,” Crazy Bull said.
Most recently, the fund launched new programs to support student success from cradle to career. This includes early childhood education programs, faculty development, bridge programs from high school to tribal colleges and universities and to four-year institutions, internship programs and research and leadership grants. To date the AICF has awarded more than $93 million in support of scholarships and programs.
The AICF says it wants to thank its supporters and continue to provide Native students with pathways to a culturally based higher education and success. For more information please visit www.collegefund.org. ♦
Organization: American Indian College Fund
Location: 8333 Greenwood Blvd., Denver, CO 80221
President: Cheryl Crazy Bull
Mission: To transform Indian higher education by funding and creating awareness of the unique, community-based accredited tribal colleges and universities, offering students access to knowledge, skills and cultural values that enhance their communities and the country as a whole.