In regard to the article “Tribal colleges give poor return on more than $100 million a year in federal money” in the November 26, 2014 issue of The Hechinger Report which also ran in The Atlantic under the title “The Failure of Tribal Schools,” Sarah Butrymowicz misses several salient few points about the challenges facing tribal colleges (TCUs) and their students concerning the colleges’ mission to give—and their students’ goal to earn—a higher education. We appreciate the importance of analyzing data as it pertains to higher education given the challenges faced in this country when addressing student completion and the cost of higher education. But as with all analysis, context is the most critical basis for any examination.
Butrymowicz looks at the need for TCU students to receive remedial education when entering college, as well as their graduation rates, but she touches only lightly on the underlying reasons for this. The answer is not simple, but it is tied to socioeconomics. Poverty and its attendant social issues are what prevent so many Native students from entering a college or university, let alone graduating. This nation’s TCUs have been remarkably successful in helping students overcome incredible barriers to entering college and have over time consistently helped students to achieve their educational goals and attain successful employment.
As the College Fund notes, Marybeth Gasman, Professor of Higher Education at University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education also responded on The Huffington Post with “Not a Full Picture: Evaluating Tribal College Success Using Mainstream Measures.”