Education for self-determination: The worldwide emergence and institutionalization of 'indigenous colleges'

Wade M. Cole
Dept. of Sociology, Stanford University
July, 2006


I examine the emergence and institutionalization of aboriginal postsecondary institutions---'indigenous colleges'---around the world. Three questions are addressed: (1) What accounts for indigenous control of postsecondary institutions? (2) What explains variation in their timing, number, degree of institutional autonomy, and organizational forms? Finally, (3) how does their curricular content differ from other institutions, and why? Each question is cast at a different level of analysis: indigenous control is an issue of global scope; timing, number, autonomy, and forms vary cross- nationally; and curricular content is an attribute of indigenous colleges as organizations. I conclude that the sovereignty of indigenous peoples, rooted historically in the law of nations, empowers them to establish independent postsecondary institutions. The global component links the changing status of indigenous peoples to broader world polity transformations and investigates the effect of these changes on the nature, control, and purpose of indigenous education. These global processes interact with 'local' conditions---in particular, cross-national variation in the structure of minority-group incorporation regimes and the expansion of higher education systems---to hasten or delay the establishment of indigenous colleges in six cases: Australia, Canada, Greenland, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States. Indigenous colleges emerge first in countries that recognize the inherent political sovereignty of indigenous peoples. In addition, the extent to which indigenous peoples are acknowledged as sovereign affects the number of colleges founded and the degree of institutional autonomy they enjoy. Indigenous colleges also tend to adopt the organizational forms prevailing in each country's non-university tertiary sector.
The concluding analysis turns attention to tribal colleges in the United States, comparing them with historically black and 'mainstream' colleges. I analyze longitudinal data for a sample of tribal, black, and mainstream colleges to demonstrate how minority policies in the United States shape the composition of formal curricula at minority-serving colleges. Descriptive and negative-binomial regression analyses indicate that tribal colleges are much more likely than either black or mainstream colleges to (1) incorporate minority cultural content into the curriculum, and (2) distribute 'culture' across academic disciplines. Again, I attribute this finding to the exceptional quasi-sovereign legal status of Indian tribes.