The interdisciplinary field of Native American studies looks deep into many aspects of Native people, including their history, culture, literature, and language. Graduates can turn their skills toward advocacy, the arts, historiography, or public policy.
Each entry on our list of the 10 best small colleges for Native American studies majors on a budget had to meet our high standards.
First, each college offers at least one program (not including minors) for students who are seeking a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies or a related area.
Second, the college maintains an undergraduate graduation rate of at least 55%.
Last, the college’s estimated annual fee has to be less than $27,000 a year, as reported by College Navigator.
The question is: which school is the cheapest? Read on to find out the answer.
Each of these top schools has at least one full program (not including minors) for students seeking a bachelor’s degree in Native American studies or a related area (including Indigenous Studies and American Studies with a concentration in Indigenous Populations). In addition, they each maintain an overall undergraduate graduation rate of at least 55%. Of course, to be a best value, these top-ranked schools also have to demonstrate a genuine commitment to affordable education – which means meeting our net price requirements. All of the programs on this ranking have estimated annual costs (as reported on College Navigator) of less than $27,000 a year. But which of these is the most affordable small college for a Native American studies degree? Scroll down to #1 to find out!
For more information on the methodology, click here.
It's not just that the University of Minnesota Morris is the most affordable small college for a Native American Studies degree; with a net price that barely tops $13,000 a year, it is the most affordableby far. Given this information, one might expect the quality of UMM's program to pale in comparison to the others on this list. Quite to the contrary, the university offers a fully developed American Indian Studies major that dwarfs most of its competitors in the size and scope of its curriculum. With five core courses and another 20 required electives - including indigenous language classes in Dakota or Anishinaabe - UMM strikes an elusive balance of cost, quality, and comprehensiveness that is almost too good to pass up.
Although most liberal arts colleges share a devotion to student-led, interdisciplinary learning, Amherst takes the concept of academic independence to a new level. This is readily apparent in the school's American Studies major, which identifies just two classes that all program members must take. The rest is up to the individual student to decide, which makes it especially easy to concentrate coursework on a specific topic of interest. A Native American Studies concentration (which is popular enough that Amherst includes it as a suggested topic) might include classes like "Rethinking Pocahontas: An Introduction to Native American Studies," "Native American Literature: Decolonizing Intellectual Traditions," and "Indigenous American Epics," among several other options.
When it comes to academic resources and opportunities, few schools on this list (except possibly Colgate) can compete with Northland College's Native American Studies major. But this should come as no surprise to people familiar with Northland, a liberal arts college with "a progressive focus on the environment and sustainability." Here, students in just about any major will learn about the importance of nature - a principle vastly significant to many indigenous tribes. For NAS majors in particular, coursework covers a broad array of topics relating to both local communities (including Ojibwe language classes) and the broader impacts of indigenous culture (like "Global Indigenous Politics" and "Native American World Views").
Most of the colleges on this top Native American Studies program ranking fall into one of two categories: they offer a complete major, or they offer enough relevant coursework that students can design an individual program of comparable breadth and depth. Vassar College, however, falls somewhere in between. Although undergrads officially declare a major in American Studies, the department provides a "correlate sequence" in Native American Studies. Each year, faculty devise a new and updated course list for the sequence, which makes for a program that is more dynamic than most. At any time, students can check the department website to see which classes are available to them; current options include "Native American Women," "Indigenous and Oppositional Media," and "Amerindian Religions and Resistance," among many others.
Like Wesleyan, Williams College offers an unofficial degree in indigenous cultures through its American Studies department. This program, which is one of the oldest of its kind, has evolved over time to include a particularly unique set of specialization options. Any student looking for an affordable college with Native American Studies coursework who ends up at Williams would do best to choose the "Comparative Studies in Race, Ethnicity, and Diaspora" concentration within this program. In doing so, program members acquire access to a surprising number of relevant classes in Native American Studies, such as "Beyond Tonto: American Indians in Film," "Development of American Indian Law & Policy," and "Real Indians: Indigeneity and the Authenticity Problem."
Colgate marks the second of just a handful of schools on this Native American Studies program ranking to offer a full-fledged major in the subject. But that's not the only reason to count Colgate among the rarest of the rare; in addition to a comprehensive curriculum, this program is one of a very few in the country to encompass the cultures, traditions, and livelihood of indigenous populations in both NorthandSouth America. And yet, perhaps the most distinguishing feature of Colgate's impressive NAS degree is the Santa Fe Study Group, an off-campus learning initiative in New Mexico. Every other year, the university sends a select group of students to learn about Pueblo communities directly from indigenous artists, storytellers, and educators in the region.
At first glance, it may seem as if Wesleyan College doesn't offer a Native American Studies degree at all. In actuality, this is one of the best colleges for Native American Studies majors, and the opportunities to study this unique topic are hiding in plain sight. Students need simply to elect a major in American Studies and then opt to build an "individual concentration" (although Wesleyan also provides several pre-design areas of specialization). After that, it's only a matter of paging through the course catalog to reveal a treasure trove of classes that address the culture and history of indigenous peoples in North America. Wesleyan even offers a few classes that other schools with NAS programs overlook, including "Indigenous Politics" and "Native American Health."
One of the few small colleges with Native American Studies on its list of majors, Augsburg stands apart for its unique commitment to educating the next generation about the history of our continent's original citizens. Although the American Indian Studies Department (yes, there is an entire department for this subject alone) only received its "departmental" status in 2006, Augsburg has been cultivating its now comprehensive course list for more than three decades. As such, NAS majors today have access to more than a dozen classes within the program, not including relevant interdisciplinary courses - in anthropology and history, for example - available through other departments.
Although affordable Native American Studies undergraduate programs can be hard to find, there are nonetheless plenty of creative ways to get an education in this all-important subject. At Pitzer, like many of the small colleges on this list, the best route to take is through the school's B.A. in American Studies. This major enables students to concentrate their coursework around a particular theme; the only stipulation is that they select their classes from at least two different departments. Fortunately for undergrads interested in NAS, this isn't hard to do. From anthropology ("Native Americans and their Environments") to sociology ("American Indian Movements") and even art history, students can find interesting, NAS-relevant coursework throughout the college's many academic programs.
Anyone who checks the "Departments and Programs" page on Smith's website won't find a Native American Studies undergraduate program listed. Instead, undergrads at Smith - along with about half of the other schools below - take a somewhat circuitous route to earn a degree in this field. Fortunately, devising an "independent concentration" is a hallmark of many liberal arts colleges, and Smith is no exception. Students with an interest in the lives and culture of North America's original residents can forge a path through the college's American Studies program, which provides considerable flexibility in its curriculum. As an added bonus, undergrads can earn a certificate in Native American and Indigenous Studies through Smith's membership in the Five College Consortium.
Want to find out exactly how much it will cost for you to attend one of these affordable Native American Studies undergraduate programs? Check out the U.S. Department of Education’s Net Price Calculator Center.
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