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Tribal College bill passes first test
31 January 2007

BISMARCK (UTN) - North Dakota's tribal colleges have earned a vote of confidence from a panel of lawmakers at the state legislature in Bismarck. The House Education Committee approved a bill January 31 that would appropriate state funds to help pay for the educational costs of non-Natives who attend tribal colleges.

      A number of similar measures have been introduced over the past 20 years but all have "failed to make it out of committee," said Cynthia Mala, president of Candeska Cikana (Little Hoop) Community College, Fort Totten, ND.

David M. Gipp
United Tribes Technical College President David M. Gipp testified at the State Capitol in Bismarck January 31 that support for tribal colleges is an investment in the future of North Dakota.

      Presidents from the tribal colleges appeared before two legislative committees that have considered slightly different versions of a bill appropriating $700-thousand dollars in grants for student aid during the 2007-09 biennium.

      "There's been a lot of misunderstanding about tribal colleges," said Mala, former executive director of the State Indian Affairs Commission.

      Contrary to the common assumption, non-Native students can and do attend tribal colleges. They constitute seven percent of the 2,600 students attending North Dakota tribal colleges, or about 180 students.

      "Non-Native students choose to enroll because they live on or near reservations and because of affordability," said Mala.

      Tuition rates at tribal colleges are the lowest of any higher education institutions in the state "because of poverty for Native students," said Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College, Belcourt, ND.

      Tribal colleges have never considered asking non-Native students to pay a higher tuition cost that would more closely reflect the cost to educate, said Davis, who is president of the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges.

      "We have always had an 'open door' policy," said Davis.

      As passed by the committee, the bill would direct the North Dakota University System to administer the grant program and fund it from an approximate $6-million appropriation they are seeking for the North Dakota Student Incentive Grant Program. While they support the bill, the State Board of Higher Education prefers that funding and administration come from elsewhere.

      "These students are really disenfranchised," said Mala. "They're not members of the tribe and their costs have not been covered by the state."

      Among the most popular tribal college educational programs with non-Native students are nursing and teacher education.

      "We offer some programs that are clearly equal to or better than those offered by mainstream universities," said Davis. "We are very good at training teachers for positions in schools that have Native student populations."

      The tribal college spending bill would not pay the full cost of educating a student. The grants would be based on a flat, per student payment of $2,000 per year.

      At Sitting Bull College that would mean approximately $50,000 in funding for the 25 non-Native students who attend the college in Fort Yates, ND.

      "That may not seem like much but it's a lot to us," said Laurel Vermillion, college president. "We could employ two more tutors for our students or another faculty member for student support services. We've learned to be very resourceful with what little funding we receive."

      "Most tribal college graduates stay in North Dakota," said David M. Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College, Bismarck, ND. "What we're asking is for you to invest in the future of North Dakota."

      The next test of support that awaits the tribal colleges will be in the legislature's spending committees.


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