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University of Phoenix shares success of Tribal Operations Team, dedicated to supporting Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian Students

By Sharla Hooper

Providing a framework for its tribal student population to navigate and overcome educational barriers results in higher course completion and retention rates.

University of Phoenix is announcing the success of its Tribal Operations Team, dedicated to working with tribal leaders and supporting the unique challenges of Native American, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian tribal students. Benefiting from the implementation of systems aimed at helping them overcome barriers to education, tribal students at the University are progressing through their fourth course at a higher rate than the University’s non-tribal students.

“As a demographic group, tribal students tend to perform at the lowest level of any other group on virtually every matrix associated with education, such as grades, retention or graduation rates,” said Patrick Horning, National Tribal Strategic Alliance Executive at University of Phoenix. “It is our goal to give these students the confidence and tools they need to succeed by helping to prepare them for college classes and manage work-school-family life balance.”

University of Phoenix spent two years on face-to-face meetings with tribal leadership and research to better understand the challenges facing tribal students and their communities. This effort found that tribal students often feel unprepared for college classes, are unsure of how to simultaneously manage the demands of work, school, and family, and struggle with self-esteem. Adding to lack of confidence in the system, many have also watched friends and family try the college experience and fail.

Backed by detailed findings from the research, the Tribal Operations Team was created to increase academic performance and graduation rates, provide students with a support system to help them build confidence, and give tribal leaders a return on their educational investment.

“In addition to being supported by the Tribal Operations team while finishing my Master’s in Management degree, I work with the team on a professional level as the Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association,” shared Ernie Stevens, Jr., MM, Chairman, National Indian Gaming Association, and University of Phoenix alumni. “I cannot say enough about their commitment to the academic success of tribal students, minimizing tuition costs for our members and employees, and helping to educate our members and employees.”

The Tribal Operations Team collaborates with tribal leaders and the University’s enrollment team to guide students through the process of applying for scholarship funding and ensure they follow the unique financial-aid guidelines for their tribe or tribal enterprise. The team then works closely with students through their first four classes to build a foundation for success. Trained in various tribes’ customs, culture, and traditions, the Tribal Operations Team also coaches students to success throughout their educational journey. This includes reviewing instructor feedback and helping them work through challenges without getting overwhelmed.

Following the implementation of this program, tribal students completed their first course in 2020 at a rate of four percentage points higher than the average University of Phoenix student. After their fourth course, tribal students were registering completion rates of eight points higher than the University’s average student. By the end of the students’ first academic year, tribal retention remains higher than the overall student average.

“The result has been amazing, given historic averages,” said Horning. “We plan to extend the retention strategy even further now that we know that this approach works. Our goal is to support tribal members and help them to be able to go to school and be successful, contrary to what they may have seen in the past with other family or community members.”

In recognition of the University’s role in promoting and supporting Native Americans seeking higher education, the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) this summer presented the University of Phoenix with the NIGA 2021 Business Leadership Award.

For more information, contact the University of Phoenix Tribal Operations Team at 800-486-2145 or

About University of Phoenix
University of Phoenix is continually innovating to help working adults enhance their careers in a rapidly changing world. Flexible schedules, relevant courses, interactive learning, and Career Services for Life® help students more effectively pursue career and personal aspirations while balancing their busy lives. For more information, visit