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Beyond the News

A voice for native-serving institutions in higher ed

University Business, March 2018

When it comes to underserved student populations, one group is often left out of the conversation: American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) has launched a new consortium to address the needs of these populations, powered by a three-year, $990,000 Lumina Foundation grant. Angela Rochat, coordinator for evaluation policy and data at WICHE, was part of the consortium team from the start.

While at the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Minority Serving Institutions, Rochat realized that other minority populations—Asian-Americans, Hispanics and African-Americans—all had consortia that addressed their issues.

“Native American, non-tribal institutions, or NSIs, did not have a unified voice and were often overlooked in national policy forums, yet these institutions serve more than 90 percent of the American Indian and Alaskan Native students in higher education,” Rochat says.

NSIs differ from tribal colleges, or TCUs, which are on native-nation land and have nation-to-nation status with the federal government, she says. “The majority of non-tribal NSIs are state public institutions.”

The project begins this spring with 26 schools that qualify as NSIs, many of which will be eligible for planning grants and will collaborate to define common NSI goals, metrics and priorities.

These institutions include Fort Lewis College (Colorado), Bladen Community College (North Carolina), Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, Alaska Pacific University, Heritage University (Washington), Northern New Mexico College, Redlands Community College (Oklahoma) and Coconino Community College (Arizona).

American Indian and Alaska Native students constitute at least 10 percent of the student body at these schools, qualifying them as NSIs.

The consortium will build networks, develop strategies for this group’s distinctive needs, and speak out on legislative and policy matters. While focusing primarily on NSIs, the broader goal is to improve access to and success in higher education for the 5.2 million Americans who identify as American Indian or Alaska Native.