Expanding Opportunities for Tribal Colleges and Indigenous Students

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As part of its mission to improve equity and economic mobility for marginalized students, the Student Freedom Initiative (SFI) greatly expanded its partnerships with Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs) over the past year, with a growing focus on Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs). By doing so, SFI hopes to bolster educational and career opportunities for tribal and Indigenous students throughout the country.

Since August 2024, SFI has launched partnerships with two TCUs: Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe University (LCOOU) and Ilisaġvik College (IC), community colleges in Wisconsin and Alaska, respectively. As a national nonprofit organization, SFI offers income-contingent loans to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) majors at MSIs — the profits of which are rolled back into financial aid funds for future students.

As part of its agreements with LCOOU and IC, SFI is working to grow the technology infrastructure within each college by providing new equipment and training for staff to strengthen campus cybersecurity and enhance their ability to meet the technical needs of students and alumni, primarily to improve their marketability in the workforce upon graduation.

“As a Tribal College, we operate on limited resources; the generosity of SFI means that we will be able to improve our cyberinfrastructure as well as provide quality training to our staff,” IC President Justina Wilhelm said in a press release.

Additional benefits of the partnerships include student internship, tutoring, and mentorship opportunities, as well as a range of support services — such as resume writing, interviewing techniques, and test-taking strategies — through SFI’s corporate and nonprofit collaborations.

SFI utilizes the internXL platform, which focuses on career preparation and job readiness through internships. The platform offers access to advanced training in career readiness and technical courses, enrichment resources, and certifications in information technology, Google Cloud, Salesforce, and project management.

SFI plans to expand services to include microgrants for unforeseen emergencies, summer immersion programs, and academic, career, and mental health counseling. In addition, students will have access to venture capital education sessions to learn about investment strategies and improve their financial literacy.

“[T]he partnership with SFI is significant not only for our students but for all [TCUs],” LCOOU President Russell Swagger said in a press release. “This innovative funding tool will strengthen our current programs and support more Native American students to achieve and obtain sovereignty for themselves and future generations. SFI’s partnership provides another opportunity for LCOOU students to build their skills, supporting them through graduation and preparing our new alumni for the workforce.”