30 American Colleges That Support Indigenous Students and Communities

An unfortunate truth regarding higher education in America is that Native Americans have the lowest enrollment rate of all ethnic groups. Because of this, colleges need to do more to become more accommodating to indigenous people and support indigenous communities. Ethnic background should never be an impediment to educational and career attainment. Luckily, some American colleges are actively engaging with indigenous communities and making significant changes that ensure that Native American students are able to succeed. The 30 colleges in this article are all strong examples.

As institutions that are supposed to improve the future for everyone, every college in America should be focused on improving the prospects of indigenous communities and Native American students. The low representation of indigenous students on college campuses proves that this sadly isn’t the case. But the efforts of some colleges show that it is possible for the status quo to change and that a more equal future could be on the horizon. The efforts of these colleges also prove that there is no one way to improve the prospects of their Native American students or indigenous communities in general. Instead, there are many solutions. Because of this, this ranking has not overly focused on one form of outreach or support. Instead, it takes into account a wide range of solutions that the colleges are working upon.

This ranking has also considered the recent changes and commitments that colleges have made to support indigenous students and communities. This information gives evidence that the colleges will continue to improve their efforts for a significant duration of time.

Any one of the colleges ahead is a strong choice for a prospective student who wants to attend a college that supports Native American students or indigenous communities. But it’s also possible that none of the colleges ahead are right for you. If that’s the case, then this ranking can still be a vital resource. Each entry has a detailed summary of what the college is doing to support Native American students and/or indigenous communities. These have been included for you to compare and contrast with your own college options. If any college that you’re considering is supporting Native American students and/or indigenous communities like the 30 ahead, then that’s a strong indication that it’s a college worth attending.

Methodology

This ranking initially sourced colleges from articles that highlighted strong colleges for Native Americans and colleges that had strong minority enrollment efforts in general. Once we selected the strongest colleges from these sources, we then conducted further research to assess further ways in which the colleges were supporting Native American students and indigenous communities. The full list of sources is as follows:

Winds of Change, The Top 200 Colleges for Indigenous Students

Affordable Colleges, Colleges for Native American Students

ISEP, Native and Indigenous Serving Institutions in the ISEP Community

Collegexpress, 4-Year Colleges With the Largest Enrollment of Native American or Alaska Native Students

The New York Times, After a Year of Turmoil, Elite Universities Welcome More Diverse Freshman Classes

ABC News, For Native Americans, Harvard and other colleges fall short

The Edvocate, 2022 Best And Worst Colleges For Minorities

The final ranking has been sorted with the following criteria: Evidence of the college giving strong support to Native American students, evidence of the college giving support to indigenous communities, evidence of the college continuing to improve its efforts, evidence of innovative support, and combined rankings/number of mentions on the methodology sources.

The ranking, from 30 to one, is here:

30. University of Maryland

College Park, Maryland

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In 2021, the University of Maryland announced a number of campus initiatives with the aim of boosting the enrollment of Native American students and making Native American students feel more integrated with the wider college community. These include the creation of a Native American and Indigenous cultural center and naming a dining hall after the Piscataway Conoy Tribe. The college’s Office of Diversity & Inclusion has also provided the college’s American Indian Student Union with a grant to create a campaign that aims to reduce cultural appropriation. Collegexpress states that the University of Maryland has the 20th highest Native American student enrollment in the US. Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

29. University of Wyoming

Laramie, Wyoming

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The Native American Education, Research, & Cultural Center at the University of Wyoming, provides the college and wider area with, “a place of community, support, engagement, and learning all while assisting our students in maintaining their cultural identity.” In terms of Native American student support, the center houses a range of advisor and support services. And for wider indigenous outreach, it runs the Native American Summer Institute and the High Plains American Indian Research Institute. ISEP praises the University of Wyoming’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students.

28. University of Montana

Missoula, Montana

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The Elouise Cobell Land and Culture Institute at the University of Montana exists to both benefit University of Montana Native American students and to collaborate with tribal colleges. A significant part of this institute is its Round Room, an area that utilizes technology that is also used at NASA and the American Museum of Natural History to immerse people into interactive settings. This institute is housed within the Payne Family Native American Center, which provides further support to Native American students, such as a student lounge and study areas. Collegexpress states that University of Montana has the joint 17th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students.

27. Southeastern Oklahoma State University

Durant, Oklahoma

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Since 1996, Southeastern Oklahoma State University has hosted the Native American Symposium, with the most recent of these taking place in November 2021. These symposiums are dedicated to promoting Native American cultural advocacy. The college also provides support to Native American students. For instance, it is one of three colleges to run the College Freshman Year Initiative specifically for members of the Choctaw Nation. Collegexpress states that Southeastern Oklahoma State University has the 14th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

26. Montana State University

Bozeman, Montana

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In October 2021, Montana State University celebrated the grand opening of the American Indian Hall. This 31,000-square-foot building now acts as a home for the college’s growing Native American student population and as a bridge between indigenous culture and all other campus cultures. The college has also already established a number of education and outreach projects for indigenous people, including efforts to address the impact of drugs, asthma, and pollution upon indigenous communities. ISEP praises Montana State University’s Native American Studies program and its communication efforts with indigenous communities. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students.

25. Cornell University

Ithaca, New York

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In 2020, Cornell University created the Indigenous Dispossession Project. This project aims to identify all groups of indigenous people that were affected by Cornell University’s foundation and subsequent operations. It then aims to reach out to these communities to discuss possible remedies to this historical injustice. The college is also proactively attempting to increase its Native American community’s size. One of the most recent examples of this was the hiring of two new experts in indigenous literature, one of whom is Native American, with the other being an Asian American who grew up on unceded Alaskan tribal land, and who specializes in the intersection of Native and Asian American culture. The New York Times notes that Cornell University is currently attempting to diversify. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans.

24. University of Alaska, Southeast

Juneau, Alaska

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In 2000, to increase the amount of Native American teachers, the University of Alaska, Southeast created the Preparing Indigenous Teachers & Administrators for Alaska Schools grant. This grant still exists today and generally covers the cost of tuition and fees, as well as providing book cost stipends and housing stipends. The college’s Languages program is also working to revitalize three Native Alaskan languages. ISEP notes that the college has been able to form indigenous support-related partnerships with the Sealaska Heritage Institute and a number of tribal communities. Collegexpress notes that the University of Alaska, Southeast has the joint sixteenth highest enrollment of Native American students.

23. Portland State University

Portland, Oregon

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In late 2020, Portland State University announced that thanks to a $75,000 grant from the Oregon Higher Education Coordinating Commission, it was collaborating with the Native American Youth and Family Center to improve Native American student success. This new initiative builds upon an already impressive effort that the college has taken to support indigenous students. For example, the Native American Student and Community Center has been a part of the campus since 2003. The college is also supporting the wider indigenous community by running a program that boosts the number of Native American teachers and running an institute that provides assistance to tribal governments. Collegexpress states that Portland State University has the joint 17th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

22. University of California, Davis

Davis, California

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In 2021, the Indigenous Research Center of the Americas at the University of California, Davis celebrated 30 years of existence. This center has always had the goal of, “sharing knowledge and reflections on indigenous cultures and the inherent decolonial struggles for a higher level of autonomy, sovereignty, and self-determination in Native nations across the hemisphere.” Additionally, the college’s Department of Native American Studies has its roots in a program that started in 1969. ABC News notes that the University of California, Davis has taken the important step of acknowledging that it is based on lands once occupied by indigenous people. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

21. New Mexico State University

Las Cruces, New Mexico

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Thanks to the Indian Resources Development Act, New Mexico State University’s College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences has run the Indian Resources Development program since the 1970s. This program helps indigenous high school students, entities, businesses, and college students. Native American students enrolled in New Mexico State University also have the support of the American Indian Student Center, a 7,500 square foot building that offers a range of programming and spaces specifically for Native American students. Collegexpress states that New Mexico State University has the joint 16th highest enrollment of Native American students in a US college. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

20. Colorado State University

Fort Collins, Colorado

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The Native American Cultural Center has been a part of Colorado State University since 1979. It both supports indigenous students and the wider indigenous community. The center’s outreach to the wider community includes a K-12 STEM Outreach program which currently performs activities in five different Native American communities. Native American students who enroll at the college can also access a number of financial support options, such as the Native American Legacy Award, which allows out-of-state Native American students to enroll for in-state prices. ABC News praises Colorado State University for this award. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native American students.

19. Institute of American Indian Arts

Santa Fe, New Mexico

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In the 2020-2021 academic year, the Student Success Center at the Institute of American Indian Arts implemented a new action plan. This action plan had two major priorities, namely improving students’ English and math abilities and redesigning its approach to advice. A number of other student success initiatives are currently being conducted by this center, such as the New Freshman Summer Bridge Program. The college also conducts significant work with New Mexico’s 22 Native American communities. For instance, it provides agriculture education to these communities, ensuring that they are able to attain stronger food security. Collegexpress states that the Institute of American Indian Arts has the 13th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

18. East Central University

Ada, Oklahoma

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The hub of Native American culture and education at East Central University is the Hays Native American Study Center. This center has built a number of links between the college and the Chickasaw Nation. In fact, Chickasaw Nation Governor Bill Anoatubby has even stated the following: “They have shown unparalleled foresight and commitment to advancing knowledge of Native American culture.” The NASNTI HERITAGE Program also allows Native American students to have the opportunity to gain research funding, internships, tutoring, and more. Collegexpress states that East Central University has the 15th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

17. Utah State University

Logan, Utah

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The American Indian Support Project at Utah State University’s Department of Psychology has been in existence since 1986. It aims to address the shortage of mental health professionals who are Native American. Native American students trained under this program are supported through financial assistance, a full-time Native American faculty member, tutoring, and more. A number of other indigenous programs help Native American students who are enrolled in other departments, such as the Native American Student Council, the leadership development program, and more. Collegexpress states that Utah State University has the 12th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

16. University of Alaska, Anchorage

Anchorage, Alaska

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One of the most innovative indigenous outreach efforts in an American college is the University of Alaska, Anchorage’s National Resource Center for Alaska Native Elders. This center ensures that older Native Alaskans can have fulfilling lives within their communities. Native American students who are enrolled within the college also have access to their own dedicated services, which includes the Native Early Transition Program, which is a week-long orientation program for incoming freshmen that runs one week prior to the start of the fall semester. After this orientation week, the program continues to support students throughout their first year of study. Collegexpress states that the University of Alaska, Anchorage has the seventh-highest enrollment of Native American students in a US college. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

15. University of Central Oklahoma

Edmond, Oklahoma

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The Native American Success Initiative provides many benefits to indigenous students enrolled at University of Central Oklahoma. These include financial aid assistance, community building activities, advice, tuition waivers and more. The college’s efforts in becoming more appealing to the indigenous community received a boost in 2016, thanks to the creation of the Native American Faculty & Staff Association, which has launched a scholarship and proudly promoted the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Collegexpress states that University of Central Oklahoma has the ninth highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

14. University of Alaska, Fairbanks

Fairbanks, Alaska

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The Native American and indigenous programming at University of Alaska, Fairbanks has been evolving since 1965. Among the most successful of these initiatives is the Center for Alaska Native Health Research. This center first opened in 2001, thanks to a five-year grant from the National Institutes of Health. This center has since managed to gain continued funding through government sources, allowing it to remain open and active in the present day. Some of the current projects that the center is working on include establishing cancer survivor groups, the development of stroke prevention and intervention programs and an alcohol misuse program. The college’s Native American student programs include a supportive living community and a summer program that helps students adjust to college life. Collegexpress states that University of Alaska, Fairbanks has the fourth-highest Native American student enrollment in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

13. University of Hawaii, Hilo

Hilo, Hawaii

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In 2021, one of the pioneers of Native Hawaiian educational advancement at University of Hawaii Hilo, David Sing, was honored with a National Indian Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Sing stayed with the college for 40 years. However, his current position as the managing partner of Educational Prism boosts Native Hawaiian education broadly. And the college continues to support both indigenous students and the Native Hawaiian community. The Kipuka Native Hawaiian Student Center has a student development program that provides peer mentorship, tutoring, academic advising and more. It also encourages Native Hawaiian students to participate in community service activities. And the college’s indigenous culture and revitalization programs are so important that three US representatives visited the college for the express purpose of gaining a greater understanding of the work that is being performed. The Edvocate names University of Hawaii, Hilo one of the best colleges for minorities. Winds of Change considers the college to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

12. The University of New Mexico

Albuquerque, New Mexico

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The Center for Native American Health at The University of New Mexico is especially proactive in both supporting the college’s students and the wider indigenous community. In fact, as of late 2021, the center has 40 community partners, two student centers and six ongoing community research initiatives. And the college’s American Indian Student Services department has been in existence for over 40 years. This center first helps Native American students before they begin study by running the American Indian Summer Bridge, which allows students to understand scholarships and financial aid, develop a roadmap for the following experience and much more. Collegexpress states that The University of New Mexico has the second-highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

11. Arizona State University

Tempe, Arizona

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The Office of American Indian Initiatives at Arizona State University works with both enrolled students and a range of tribal communities within the State of Arizona. One of the most successful initiatives to come out of this office is the Tribal Nations Tour, which helps K-12 students succeed in their education. For students, this department works with the division of American Indian Student Support Services. These services have offices in four different locations across the college, with each one offering Native American students access to staff members, cultural presentations, academic success events, study spaces and more. The Center for Indian Education has also been a part of the college since 1959. The college’s American Indian Policy Institute works to expand the economic development and growth of Native American communities. Collegexpress states that Arizona State University has the joint 10th highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

10. Dartmouth College

Hanover, New Hampshire

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The six-year graduation rate for Native American students at Dartmouth College is an impressive 85%, Winds of Change notes. The source also names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native American students. Affordable Colleges also states that its Native American student recruitment initiatives have boosted enrollment to record levels. The college’s long history of educating Native Americans has led to significant achievements in promoting indigenous issues in the wider world. For example, a Native American alumnus, Louise Erdrich, managed to win the 2021 Pulitzer Prize for the book The Night Watchman, which is a novel about community efforts to prevent tribal displacement in the 1950s. The college continues to make changes that help its indigenous student body. For instance, in 2020, the college decided to replace an almost century-old weather vane that depicted a Native American in an offensive manner. The college is also working on interdisciplinary collaboration to enhance how the college teaches and presents its Native American and Indigenous collections, thanks to a $500,000 grant.

9. The University of Arizona

Tucson, Arizona

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By November of the 2021 financial year, The University of Arizona’s researchers had engaged in over 150 projects that involved tribal communities, ranging from community health work to archaeological discoveries. This indicates that the college is achieving the third pillar of its 2018 strategic plan, which is focused on engaging and supporting Native American communities. Native American students who are enrolled within The University of Arizona are supported via the division of Native American Student Affairs, which offers, “numerous programs to ease the transition from high school to college, to help you stay on top of your classes, and to help you make connections to the campus.” Collegexpress states that The University of Arizona has the 11th highest enrollment of Native American students. Winds of Change considers it to be one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

8. The University of Oklahoma

Norman, Oklahoma

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When coronavirus disrupted life in the US, The University of Oklahoma’s American Indian Programs and Services Department teamed up with AT&T to offer applicable students funding to ensure greater stability. In more normal times, this college department provides students with academic support, leadership development and student organization advice. In 1951, the college opened the American Indian Institute, which has worked to promote health, prevent disease, educate, preserve culture, develop organizations, protect rights and promote wellness among indigenous people ever since. And since 2015, the college has run the Native Nations Center, which aims to foster increased relationships with Oklahoma tribes. Collegexpress notes that The University of Oklahoma has the sixth-largest Native American student enrollment in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

7. South Dakota State University

Brookings, South Dakota

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The Wokini Initiative at South Dakota State University works to enhance the support of Native American students, provide scholarships for South Dakota tribal students and to form partnerships with indigenous communities. Native American students who are enrolled at the college also find that they have the opportunity to support the wider indigenous community. For example, the college’s American Indian Science and Engineering Society won an Outreach and Community Service Award at the 2021 AISES National Conference. ABC News praises South Dakota State University’s support of indigenous people. ISEP notes that a range of study programs at the college support indigenous awareness and issues. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans in the US.

6. Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Cambridge, Massachusetts

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ABC News notes that a number of recent changes that support Native American students at Massachusetts Institute of Technology are likely to be the first steps of a wider effort. Some changes that were implemented by May 2021 include the creation of a campus space for Native American students and the decision to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Winds of Change also names the college one of the 200 best colleges for Native American students. The New York Times notes that the college has increased its minority student enrollment in 2021. To support the wider indigenous community, the college also ran a $10,000 fellowship grant which invited indigenous innovators to submit solutions that improved their communities. Seven projects were finally chosen for this fellowship, with solutions ranging from implementing hydroponic farms to increase food security among the Navajo Nation to a program that would ethically monitor the dog population at the Pine Ridge Reservation.

5. Northern Arizona University

Flagstaff, Arizona

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The Office of Indigenous Student Success at Northern Arizona University grew from a program that began at the college in 1994. Today, it runs a range of services, such as counseling and peer-mentoring, to help Native American students. The college also performs a range of outreach efforts through the Native American Cultural Center. In 2021, this center celebrated its 10th anniversary. And this center is administrated by The Office of Native American Initiatives, which also runs separate programming that supports indigenous people, such as the Institute for Native-serving Educators, the Tribal Leadership Initiative and the Institute for Tribal Environmental Professionals. ISEP praises Northern Arizona University’s Native American support. Collegexpress states that it has the eighth largest enrollment of Native Americans in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

4. University of North Carolina, Pembroke

Pembroke, North Carolina

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Thanks to a $1.5 million grant from the US Government in 2020, the support that University of North Carolina, Pembroke provides to Native American students is only going to improve. This money created the American Indian Heritage Center, which enhances both indigenous and non-indigenous college community members. Some examples of the programming that the American Indian Heritage Center is bringing to the campus include the Indigenous Power Hour Series and the American Indian Career Network. Empowering Native American students and their communities has always been a strong part of University of North Carolina, Pembroke’s identity, as the college was originally founded for the purpose of educating Native Americans, which ISEP highlights. Collegexpress notes that it has the third-highest enrollment of Native American students in the US. Winds of Change names it one of the top 200 colleges for Native Americans.

3. University of Minnesota

Twin Cities, Minnesota

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In late 2021, University of Minnesota announced its most ambitious effort to boost its indigenous student population. It announced that in many cases, Native Americans would be able to attend the college tuition-free. In all instances, indigenous students would receive, “substantial financial support.” On-campus, the college also provides support to Native American students via the Circle of Indigenous Nations. The college is also reaching out to the wider indigenous community through the Minnesota Indigenous Leadership Network, which acts to strengthen partnerships with rural and urban Native American communities in Minnesota. ABC News also notes that University of Minnesota is working on documenting and amending prior wrongs that the college may have enacted upon indigenous Americans. Collegexpress notes that it has the 40th highest enrollment of Native American students of any US college. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 top colleges for Native American students.

2. Northeastern State University

Tahlequah, Oklahoma

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Both ISEP and Collegexpress note that Northeastern State University has the highest Native American population of any US college. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans in the US. Native American students who enroll at Northeastern State University have a number of resources to support them, such as the Center for Tribal Studies, which has existed since 1990. Additionally, the college’s Center for Indigenous Community Engagement and the Indigenous History and Literary Project work to provide outreach to and to improve the education of indigenous people.

1. Fort Lewis College

Durango, Colorado

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The Native American student population at Fort Lewis College is supported by the Native American Center. This center helps students with cultural, social, academic and transitional issues. Members of a Native American Tribe/Alaskan Native Village, and those descended from members, are able to attend the college tuition-free thanks to a college-run scholarship. ISEP considers Fort Lewis College’s Native American and Indigenous Studies program to be one of the best Native American study programs in the country. Collegexpress notes that it has the fifth-highest Native American student enrollment of any US college. Winds of Change names it one of the 200 best colleges for Native Americans.

Bambi Majumdar
Author

Melissa Anderson
Expert

Julie McCaulley
Editor-in-Chief