American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) was founded in 1973 by the presidents of the nation's first six tribal colleges as an informal collaboration among member colleges. Through AIHEC, tribal colleges nurtured 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 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 Bordeaux. 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
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.