Education for Self-Determination: The Worldwide Emergence of Indigenous Colleges
Wade Cole

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



Montana State University

Primary Discipline

Since the establishment of Navajo Community College in Arizona forty years ago, dozens of indigenous-controlled postsecondary institutions have appeared throughout the world. These “indigenous colleges” contradict an otherwise general trend toward integration in higher education. In the United States, for example, the emergence of tribal colleges coincided with the closure of many women’s and black colleges. Starting from the premise that control over the provision, administration, and content of higher education is a prerogative of sovereignty, I contend that the exceptional “quasi-sovereign” status of indigenous peoples empowers them to establish—or to have established for them—separate, culturally distinctive postsecondary institutions. The degree to which indigenous sovereignty is recognized, however, varies considerably over time and across countries. My project seeks to understand the global, national, and organizational processes giving rise to and shaping the emergence of indigenous colleges. First, what accounts for indigenous peoples’ control of postsecondary institutions—what is the source of their unique sovereignty claims? Second, what explains variation in the number of indigenous colleges established, the timing of their emergence, the degree of institutional autonomy they enjoy, and the organizational forms they assume? Finally, how does their curricular content differ from other institutions, and why? Each set of questions corresponds to a sequentially nested level of analysis: indigenous control of postsecondary institutions is an issue of global scope; differences in number, timing, autonomy, and form reflect cross-national patterns in the structure of indigenous–state relations and higher education systems; and curricular composition is an organizational attribute of indigenous colleges. I approach each question with a different set of methodological tools: analytical narratives, formal case-based comparisons (Australia, Canada, Greenland/Denmark, New Zealand, Norway, and the United States), and multivariate regression analyses, respectively.
About Wade Cole

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