AIHEC's History and Mission

American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was founded in 1972 by the presidents of the nation’s first six tribal colleges as an informal collaboration among member colleges. Through AIHEC, tribal colleges nutured a common vision and learned to see themselves as a national movement. Their work—research, advocacy and lobbying—was done through volunteerism and came almost exclusively from the presidents, community members, and other tribal and local leaders. Today, AIHEC has grown to represent 37 colleges in the United States and one Canadian institution and is the lifeline of these tribal colleges.

Ford, Carnegie, and Donner Foundations offered initial start-up funds in 1973 to establish an AIHEC office in Denver, CO. The first president of AIHEC was Gerald One Feather, followed by Lionel Bordeauz. The Rockefeller Foundation provided AIHEC's first leadership grant via the American Association of College and Junior Colleges which provided interns at Sinte Gleska College (Rosebud, SD) and Navajo Community College (Tsaile, AZ). AIHEC's first 5-year service goals included curriculum, research & data, accreditation agency, institutional development, and human services.

In 1974, funding development for member colleges began with initial funding through the House Interior appropriations committee.

AIHEC 1975 Board of Directors
AIHEC 1975 Board of Directors By 1975 the first version of the Tribally Controlled Community College Act was introduced as Senate Bill 1017. The first U.S. Senate hearing, October 1975, established a congressional record and history for future legislation and was signed into law as the first Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act, December 1978, by President Jimmy Carter. The key justification for the law was: (1) geographic isolation of the tribes, (2) access to mainstream higher education opportunities lacking for tribal populations, (3) cultural disparities with mainstream or non-Indian society, (4) student success more likely when education offered locally and in community setting, (5) local control in providing higher education to tribal members, and (6) no local tax or state funding available to the schools. The law remains an authorization for the schools under the Department of Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Funding and Resource Opportunities

The American Indian College Fund, created and controlled by the colleges and universities along with private partners in 1987, has generated millions of dollars and other resources from the private sector.

The White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities, a presidential executive order initially signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, made millions of federal dollars available from federal agencies to TCUs, along with access to other resources. Opportunities for special funding have opened up at the Department of Education's Title III Higher Education office, the National Science Foundation, the Department of Commerce, NASA, the Center for Disease Control, and other federal agencies.

Land Grant status for designated tribal colleges and universities was included in 1994 by Congress in the U.S. Agricultural legislation which allowed for equity funding, access to research and extension programs, and other infrastructure grants and loans offered by agencies, Rural Development.

AIHEC’s mission is to support the work of the tribal colleges and universities and the national movement for tribal self-determination. AIHEC’s mission statement, adopted in 1973, identifies four objectives: maintain commonly held standards of quality in American Indian education; support the development of new tribally controlled colleges; promote and assist in the development of legislation to support American Indian higher education; and encourage greater participation by American Indians in the development of higher education policy.

Historical Overview

AIHEC Staff in 1975

AIHEC staff in 1975
Photo by David Gipp
Front row: Toni Snow (Rosebud Sioux), W. Buddine Stewart (Mandan/Hidatsa), Dr. Perry G. Horse (Kiowa).
Standing: David M. Gipp (Standing Rock Sioux), Roberta Wilson (Oglala Sioux), Richard Nichols, and David Lee.