Rising from the sovereign power of our American Indian tribal nations, the mission statement of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, has always affirmed our commitment to TRIBAL higher education created and owned by our own people. Indeed, the inherent right of Native peoples to define and control our destiny, including establishing our own Tribal institutions of higher education, is central to all of our work. We believe that essential to tribal ownership of our education programs and systems is our ability to measure and evaluate those programs and systems in ways that are relevant and responsible to our communities, our students, and our tribal nations; in short, to evaluate and accredit our own programs and institutions. In fact, having our own accreditation body was an original goal of AIHEC when it was established in 1973; and while TCUs have enjoyed good working relationships with their regional accrediting bodies, there is often a disconnect between our tribal missions and how our communities view success, effectiveness, and Western evaluation and regional accreditation processes.
In 2009, after many years of outreach and development, AIHEC published the Indigenous Evaluation Framework, as a way to design and guide evaluation of our programs that is relevant to our people and that has at its core tribal values and principles. Beginning in mid-2010, AIHEC convened TCU presidents collectively and in a small working group to discuss the possibility of developing a tribally-controlled accrediting body specifically for American Indian higher education. We conducted surveys and research, and we developed a draft mission statement and values for the AIHEC Council on Accreditation.
While we have accomplished a substantial amount of research and design, we believe it is essential to ensure that our accrediting process – if it is to move forward – must be securely grounded in our place-based knowledge and traditional values. Therefore, our next step is to once again actively engage our communities, through a process for community input and analysis similar to the one we used in the design of the Indigenous Evaluation Framework: focus groups, listening sessions, and community gatherings with our tribal constituencies. We want to share our initial thoughts on an Indigenous accreditation process, and we hope to hear from Tribal leaders, elders, educators, students, and community members on our work thus far and to bring more into our circle in the future.
We welcome all to our journey, as we explore the potential for developing a Tribally-owned process for accrediting Tribal education that is based on Native ways of knowing and Tribal values, principles, identity, and spirituality. TCUs have proven that they can be accredited through the existing system; now, our collective challenge – our goal – is to create a system that honors and strengthens who we are as tribal nations.
Draft AIHEC Tribal Higher Education Accreditation Mission Statement and Core Values
The mission of the “AIHEC Council on Accreditation” is to enhance the quality and credibility of TRIBAL higher education through the accreditation of member institutions. The Council fulfills this mission through core philosophies and activities that:
- Promote excellence among member institutions through a rigorous process of accreditation that honors Tribal Identity, Indigenous knowledge, Sovereignty of Tribal nations, and the unique holistic, spiritual, community/family, and place-based foundation of individual tribal institution of higher education;
- Acknowledge the historical context and experience within which tribally-chartered institutions of higher education have and will continue to evolve;
- Encourage collaboration and information sharing among member institutions and regional, national, and international institutions and organizations to promote, preserve, and actualize the inherent rights of Indigenous peoples worldwide to determine their education systems and maintain, strengthen, and revitalize their Native languages and cultures; and
- Through partnerships with its sister organizations, recognizes and nurtures the personal gifts of students, faculty, administrators, presidents, and governing boards of member institutions.
- AIHEC BoD Retreat Notes: Accreditation Discussion (Crazy Bull and Gipp, note takers), 2010 July
- AIHEC BoD Retreat Accreditation Flip Chart Notes, 2010 July
- AIHEC Surveys of Presidents on Accreditation, 2010 August
- Accreditation Visioning Planning Meeting Discussion, 2010 September
- AIHEC BoD Resolution on a Tribal Accrediting Agency, 2010 October
Tribal Colleges are accredited by the same regional accrediting bodies that accredit most institutions of higher education in the United States. Currently, 26 TCUs are accredited through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) and nine are accredited through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). Two TCUs are developing institutions working toward accreditation.
Distinctive and Connected: Tribal Colleges and Universities and Higher Learning Commission Accreditation—Considerations for HLC Peer Reviewers
The "Considerations for HLC Peer Reviewers" report—the first of its kind—is designed to provide important context for Higher Learning Commission peer reviewers who may not be familiar with the unique characteristics of Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). The Higher Learning Commission is committed to promoting a solid understanding of the unique role of the TCUs and their contribution to higher education among its members, and particularly those who serve as peer reviewers. The report offers useful tips and guidance for reviewers new to TCUs and includes important historical and current data on the institutions.