Lumina Foundation Grants the American Indian College Fund $650K

DENVER, CO – In order to better understand the factors limiting Native Americans’ access and success in higher education, Lumina Foundation has granted the American Indian College Fund $650,000 for a two-part, 30-month project. The first part will determine how affordability of higher education factors into college degree attainment for Native students and how affordability practices impact the long-term sustainability of tribal colleges and universities. The second part will frame how tribal colleges and universities determine high quality credentials and implement teaching and learning practices that contribute to attainment. Currently research identifies affordability as a central cause of college student attrition, however, no research to date has demonstrated the impact of college affordability on the low rates of American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) student college completion. Tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), tribally chartered higher education institutions located on or near Indian reservations, enroll 11 percent of AIAN students (approximately 15,000) seeking a college degree.

The American Indian College Fund (the College Fund) will research whether and how access, affordability and the rising cost of attending college, coupled with institutional structural challenges and high rates of poverty in American Indian and Alaska Native communities (26.8 percent compared to 14.6 percent of the overall population), influence the completion rates of AIAN students.

The College Fund will also research how TCUs’ absorption of the cost of education to ensure AIAN student access impacts their sustainability.

The research will be conducted in collaboration with the National Native Scholarship Providers Working Group (NNSPWG), comprised of the College Fund and three national Native scholarship-providing organizations: the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES), the American Indian Graduate Center (AIGC), the Indigenous Education Incorporated (IEI) and the College Fund. The collaboration will provide the College Fund access to a large, representative sample of AIAN college students attending both tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and predominantly white two- and four-year institutions to examine college affordability for AIAN of both TCU and mainstream AIAN college students, graduates, and students who did not complete college.

To understand better how TCUs develop credentialed programs and how these credentials impact student success while influencing their sustainability as higher education institutions, the College Fund will also survey a sample of TCUs while engaging in detailed implementation with five TCUs to examine how they create credential programs and determine program success and outcomes. Specifically, this aspect of the project will explore how TCUs utilize state longitudinal data systems to determine the value of their programs; whether TCUs engage state economic forecasting studies to inform credential offerings; how TCUs are involved in their tribal governments’ economic development processes to ensure correct credentials for future tribal employment; and how TCUs measure if their credential offerings are meeting the needs of students (future, current and former), local/state employers, tribal and state policies and their own institutions.

This research is meant to further Lumina’s goal of 60 percent of Americans holding degrees, certificates or other high-quality post-secondary credentials by the year 2025 by raising the college completion rates of AIAN students. In addition, this research will assist Lumina’s efforts in achieving the goal by providing necessary evidence of the barriers that hinder AIAN completion so that they may be removed, while ensuring AIAN students are on a guided academic pathway leading to a high-quality credential; robust institutional data tracks the progress of AIAN students along their education path in real time and identifies problems they face in meeting learning goals, and targeted academic, social, and financial supports get students back and track and keep them on a path to academic completion.

The College Fund will produce and publish resulting reports from the work.

About the American Indian College Fund
Founded in 1989, the American Indian College Fund has been the nation’s largest charity supporting Native higher education for 30 years. The College Fund believes “Education is the answer" and provided $7.72 million in scholarships to 3,900 American Indian students in 2018-19, with nearly 137,000 scholarships and community support totaling over $221 million since its inception. The College Fund also supports a variety of academic and support programs at the nation’s 35 accredited tribal colleges and universities, which are located on or near Indian reservations, ensuring students have the tools to graduate and succeed in their careers. The College Fund consistently receives top ratings from independent charity evaluators and is one of the nation’s top 100 charities named to the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. For more information about the American Indian College Fund, please visit

About Lumina Foundation
Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. Lumina envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. The foundation’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.