10 Ways to Successfully Recruit and Retain Tribal College Students

10 Ways to Successfully Recruit and Retain Tribal College Students



If you have a position, an internship, or an educational opportunity you are looking to fill by recruiting in Indian Country, tribal colleges are an excellent source. Students at tribal colleges and universities are looking for opportunities to further their education and careers, so you will find a receptive audience. Learning a bit about your prospects will go a long way. Recently, Tribal College Journal spoke with a NASA recruiter who helps Native students enroll in a national STEM internship program. Below we share some of his experiences and advice as well as some things we’ve learned over the years.


1) Know your audience

Get to know some of the people you’d like to reach so you can better craft your opportunity and message. Although tribal college constituents are much more than numbers, a good first step would be to peruse the market data on TCJ’s media kit. Additionally, call ahead and arrange to visit a tribal college. More information on the individual tribal colleges can be found here. By talking with some of the faculty, administrators, and students, you can form connections and will learn more than you thought possible. It’s worth the investment.


2) Don’t typecast

Consider broadening your outreach efforts among multiple fields and disciplines. Don’t limit your qualifications to a specific educational background, or focus your outreach to a particular gender or age group. Our NASA recruiter told us he was most surprised by the artists that participated in their program. He found that they applied the same focus and skill to their science fieldwork as they did in the art studio, making them some of their most successful interns. Tribal college students are pursuing a wide variety of academic disciplines. They will bring a diversity of skills and viewpoints that will add value to any institution.


3) Spread the word through Native media outlets

Consider placing an ad in Tribal College JournalThe quarterly magazine is distributed to all the tribal colleges and commands the attention of faculty, staff, administrators, and students. In addition to the print magazine, TCJ sends out a bi-monthly e-newsletter and a bi-monthly careers newsletter. Readers also frequent the website where they can find the most information, news, and opportunities available anywhere for those involved or interested in American Indian higher education.


4) Engage with students through social media

Reaching out on social media platforms seems like a mandatory marketing technique in our digital age, but meaningful engagement on social media takes time and effort. TCU students use mobile devices and are on social media just like their counterparts at mainstream institutions, but they have their own ways of interacting on different social media platforms. The more time you take to learn these subtle nuances, the more effective you will be.


5) Make personal connections

Students are even more likely to respond to an ad or brochure if they have a personal exchange with someone from that organization. In addition to visiting a tribal college, consider attending or exhibiting at an AIHEC student conference to meet students and learn more about their interests and needs. It’s also a great place to meet faculty and to network. If you can’t attend, consider sponsoring an event such as Tribal College Journal’s creative writing contest to make your brand more visible among the attendees.


6) Explain the community-wide benefits of the opportunity

Many Native students are reluctant to leave their families and their communities, whether it’s temporary or more long-term. If your appeal only promotes how your position will help the individual, chances are your sales pitch may be missing the mark. Native students want to know how an opportunity will not only benefit them, but how their newfound skills or experience will benefit their community and their people.


7) Reach out to faculty

Connecting with the faculty is perhaps one of the best ways to reach students. Professors at tribal colleges are especially interested in helping their students succeed. Because of the small class sizes, there is a greater interaction between the instructors and students than at mainstream institutions. Tribal college faculty know their students well and if they see an opportunity that seems like a good fit, they will often pass it along and encourage students to pursue it.


8) Help walk them through the process of applying

If you’ve found some prospective students who are ready to apply for your opening, find a way to offer them assistance in applying. If you can’t do it in person, hold a webinar. Sometimes pulling together the necessary information, a resumé, references, and then filling out online forms can be a daunting task and a barrier for otherwise well-qualified, talented students. Having a faculty contact can help with this step as well.


9) Help recruits navigate their new environment

If your opportunity requires a change of location, recognize that your new recruits may not know how to find their way. If they are unfamiliar with city life, for example, show them how to use public transportation. Walk them through buying a plane ticket and navigating airports. Give them some pointers on appropriate attire for your organization. As they are getting settled, designate a mentor who will check in with them regularly.


10) Make adjustments to your program

You may find that your initial program design needs modification for it to be successful for all involved. Many tribal college students have families, including young children. Does this present a barrier in recruiting the right candidate? How can these barriers become opportunities? Could some of the work be completed remotely from home? Does the length of the program need to be adjusted? Consider providing a stipend for those who have a spouse and children who will relocate with them or allow for travel opportunities between the new location and their home.


Studies have shown that having a diverse workforce can greatly improve a company’s operations. Of course each opportunity is different and some of these ideas may not work for your institution. Ultimately, the more effort you put into understanding those who you’d like to recruit and designing your program accordingly, the more successful you (and your new recruits) will be.