Rick Williams, formerly at the helm of the American Indian College Fund, with the Fund's current president and CEO Cheryl Crazy Bull at an October 2 lucheon in the West Village of New York City.

American Indian College Fund to Celebrate 25 Years

Christina Rose

The American Indian College Fund will celebrate its 25th anniversary in 2014. Cheryl Crazy Bull, Sicangu Lakota the president and chief executive officer of the fund, reveals her hopes and goals for the fund’s future. Crazy Bull began her own career teaching at Sinte Gleska University on the Rosebud Reservation, where she worked her way up in the administration to become department chair. Crazy Bull later served as president of Northwestern Indian College in Washington state.

How has the Fund changed in the past 25 years?

The Fund started from nothing 25 years ago, is now giving $5.5 million to $6 million a year, and we have given more than 85,000 scholarships since then.

People think the funds are raised for broadly based education, but it is specifically for the 34 tribal institutions that have educated 20,000 students. The Fund was developed in 1989 by tribal college presidents to support tribal colleges and universities.

The College Fund has been able to grow in a selective environment, and is funded by individuals who are interested in supporting tribal education, and who appreciate the opportunity it brings to the disadvantaged.

What are some of the challenges the Fund has faced?

The Fund is not as broadly known as it should be to really affect those who are seriously disadvantaged. Within the market we do have name recognition; we are probably the largest Native American controlled fund in the country. We offer funding to thousands of colleges, and we support a whole range of programs. In that regard, we are pretty large, but not large enough to provide support to all who apply.

Can all of the applicants receive money through the Fund?

We can support about 25 percent of the applicants, but we estimate that 75 to 90 percent who apply are eligible for financial aid. We know there is a huge gap between what we need and what we can provide. We also know tribal colleges operate on shoestring budgets, and that they can’t compete with other college salaries. But we were able to give some funding to build a number of newer facilities.

The College Fund is in a good position to provide a place for people to invest their money. Anybody who gives money wants to know it will be well spent.

How many of the students who receive funding graduate?

The goal has been towards providing accessibility to funding and not as much effort has been put into tracking, but we are going to start looking at this. We recently did a study and a large percentage of the recipients said that they achieved their educational goals with the support they received. Students express a high level of satisfaction of their experience, and that information comes from an outside agency.

What are some of the goals?

Right now the Fund is positioning for dramatic growth. We are putting a new strategic fund in place, and we want to have a very successful campaign for the 25th anniversary in 2014. We are also preparing to ambitiously work on new marketing programs with Wiedan and Kennedy, an international marketing firm, to capitalize on public interest. I am looking forward to working on that.

What is the best thing a student can do to receive funding?

Go to class and do the work, and ask for the help. To receive funding, students attending a tribal college must meet the criteria of the donor. There are two kinds of funding sources. One goes through the college, and is standard, given according to need and GPA. Then there are funds given by a donor who maybe wants to fund a health major or a certain tribe, and we administer those funds.

In the scholarship arena, the best thing for a student to do is apply. They may be remarkable and talented, but they need to apply. We want to get them to apply even if they don’t get the funding because it helps us show the funders there is a need for more, and who knows, maybe you’ll get one next time.

The Fund originated during the civil rights movement when tribal leaders decided to take education back from the failed policies of the U.S. government. The first tribal college was founded by the Navajo Nation, achieving the goal of teaching their students on the reservation. Today there are 34 tribal colleges and universities in 14 states, serving tribal members from every area of the country.

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