Educating the Mind and Spirit

The American Indian College Fund Makes a Difference for Native Scholars

By Katharine A. Díaz

Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Navajo, Kiowa, Osage, Wampanoag . . . whatever their nation or tribe, American Indian students who want to go to college can rest assured that the American Indian College Fund (the Fund) has their back.

The Denver-based national scholarship fund is the largest, private provider of scholarships for American Indian students in the United States and supports the nation’s 33 accredited, tribal colleges and universities (TCU’s). The Fund was created in 1989 after tribal college presidents recognized the need to establish an organization to raise private-sector funds for these colleges serving Indian Country that receive little or no local or state tax support.

The American Indian College Fund’smission is to transform Indian highereducation by funding and creating awareness of the tribal colleges and universities, and to offer students access to knowledge, skills and cultural values that enhance their communities and the country. In addition to scholarships, the Fund also provides capital support to the TCU; funding for culture and language preservation; intellectual capital development at the TCU; culturally sensitive early childhood development programs; and leadership development for Native students.

But back to scholarships . . .

More than 83,000 scholarship awards have been made to Native students since the fund’s founding. In 2010-11, the fund distributed close to $4.9 million in scholarships and program support, which directly translated into 6,410 awards to more than 3,500 scholarships recipients. For 2011-12, $5.6 million made it possible to support 4,218 scholarship recipients.

According to Patrick McTee, director of Scholarships for the American Indian College Fund, there are two major scholarship programs—the Full Circle Scholarship program and the TCU Scholarship program. The Full Circle program applies to students attending a public, private nonprofit, or tribal college. The TCU program is open to students who attend tribal colleges only. They are funded by the American Indian College Fund and awarded by the colleges.

To attract more dollars to the fund, McTee explains that a new public service announcement campaign has been launched. Called “Help a Student Help a Tribe,” the campaign has been getting a lot of attention nationally. As with other scholarship funds, corporate, foundation and individual donations are sought. “We are tapping every source, but the biggest evolution is in the corporate world,” says McTee. “Corporations are becoming more and more astute with their giving and couple it with their corporate efforts. It is more about recipients as a potential pool for internships and employees.”

On the other hand, points out McTee, foundations want the scholarships to impact the geographic area they serve. They too are looking at the whole picture.

To date, corporate and foundation partners range from Allstate to the National Indian Gaming Association to Morgan Stanley and Wrigley and hundreds more.

McTee and his scholarship team—four in the organization’s 40+ staff of nonprofit professionals—are aggressive about reaching out to students to inform them about scholarship opportunities. “We visit high schools and tribal colleges,” says McTee. “We do direct mail campaigns and hit Native American conferences, such as those of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society and National Indian Education Association, as well as state association conferences.” His team also maintains an active profile on Facebook and YouTube and other social media.

Scholarships are offered in pretty much every field, including trade and technical fields, notes McTee. But the top fields are business, health-related fields (nursing, nutrition, dental, pre-medicine, etc.), sciences, engineering, mathematics, technology, liberal arts and education.

Interestingly, 1 in 5 American Indian College Fund scholarship recipients major in business or business-related fields; and according to a 2010 fund survey, 36 percent express interest in internships in the gaming and hospitality fields.

How competitive is the scholarship review process? According to McTee, for the Full Circle scholarships for 2011-12, approximately 2,000 applications were received for some 500 awards. As a result, it is very important that students take care with their applications.

So, if you are a student looking into scholarships, McTee shares these tips if you are applying for scholarships through the American Indian College Fund:

  • Grades are important. The scholarships may be needs based, but good grades are a key factor.
  • Show involvement in your community, your culture or tribe. This shows that you are interested in Native American culture.
  •  Pay particular attention to your essay. Write and rewrite it as many times as it takes to polish it.
  •  And, finally and most importantly, finish the application and send it in.

Interested students can visit the Fund’s Web site at Click on the “Student & Alumni” link and you will be where you need to be to learn about scholarship opportunities. Note that the Full Circle Scholarship applications are accepted from January 1 through May 31. The application period for TCU Scholarships varies. The fall semester application period starts on August 1, while the spring semester application period opens January 1.

In addition, you will find information on jobs and internships as well as a list of tribal colleges. Check out the “Resource” pages for excellent guides and handbooks and contacts for other organizations. You will also like the Fund’s Facebook page created especially for students with the latest announcements about scholarships at

Overall, McTee is optimistic about the future. Corporations and foundations are increasing their giving. But the future looks particularly bright for Native scholars due to the Individual Indian Trust Settlement.

In December 2010, federal legislation provided $3.4 billion to settle the class-action lawsuit, Corbell v. Salazar, which was filed in 1996 by Elouise Corbell and others over the government’s handling of Individual Indian Trust Accounts. It claimed that the federal government had cheated American Indian tribes for more than 100 years of royalties for oil, mineral and other leases. Although appeals have been filed, up to $60 million from the settlement have been designated to fund higher education scholarships for American Indian youth.

The American Indian College Fund will benefit from the settlement and, in fact, is one of the organizations being considered to administer the settlement funds set aside for these scholarships.

American Indian College Fund

8333 Greenwood Blvd., Denver, Colorado 80221

800-776-3863 / 303-426-8900

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