A qualitative study of tribal colleges and universities that have transitioned: From two-year associate degree granting institutions to targeted four-year bachelor degree granting institutions

Lynette Chandler
Dept. of Educational Leadership, University of Montana
July, 2010


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to analyze how tribal colleges and Universities have transitioned from two-year associate degree granting institutions to offering four-year bachelor degree granting institutions. This case study includes three tribal colleges: Sitting Bull College, Salish Kootenai College and Turtle Mountain Community College. These colleges were selected to provide a solid cross section of the ten TCUs that have developed four-year degree programs while keeping the research bounded by the Northwest boundary of the United States. This research was framed by the central question: What is the process that selected two year associate degree offering TCUs used to develop specifically targeted four-year baccalaureate degree programs? The following six sub-questions were used: (1)Why are there so few examples of TCUs offering four-year baccalaureate degrees? (2) Why is it important for TCUs to offer a baccalaureate degree in addition to the associate degrees? (3) Is the desire to offer baccalaureate degrees only present in some TCUs or do all TCUs have this desire? (4) What has compelled these institutions to be among the first of the TCUs to make the transition from offering only two-year associate degrees to targeted baccalaureate degrees? (5) How has offering a targeted four-year degree by a TCU helped its students and community? (6) Are American Indian students more successful at TCUs, than at mainstream institutions, when seeking a four-year degree in a targeted area of study? The researcher organized the data collection according to patterns, consistencies, memoing, coding theme and selected vignettes to reflect the data. The researcher interviewed and transcribed the interviews based on the sub-questions and interview questions. Three key themes emerged from the analyses of the data. They are: (1) Student needs were the driving factor for each TCU in making the decision to transition to offering a targeted four-year baccalaureate degree(s). (2) The TCU was responding to an identified community need for certain skills within that particular community. (3) Leadership and the resources available at the time of the inception of the newly formed targeted four-year degree(s) were also a common element in the responses to the interview questions.