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College growing despite funding hurdle
16 February 2006

BISMARCK (UTN) - It came as no surprise when funding for the tribal college here was sliced from the federal budget. For the fifth consecutive year, when the budget was released in early February there was nothing in it for United Tribes Technical College (UTTC).

      "It's happened again," said David M. Gipp, UTTC president. "The administration left us out of their budget request to Congress."

David M. Gipp
David M. Gipp, UTTC President

      Founded in 1969 as one of the first tribal colleges in the nation, UTTC relies on the approximate $3.5 million annual appropriation for its core operations. Prior to the current administration, the funding had been included in the budget of the U. S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs. It had been a line item since 1981.

      "This is one of the top tribal colleges in the country," said North Dakota U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan. "To continually offer zero funding is to fail to recognize the important role it plays."

      For the past four years Congress has rejected the administration's proposed cut and restored UTTC's funding. Dorgan has promised to lead the fight for the school again this year, expressing his reassurances to the college president this week.

      Although the funding tussle in Washington is time consuming for Gipp and the college board of directors, and upsetting to the colleges many supporters and alumni, it has had little affect on college growth.

      On the contrary, during the last three years student enrollment has grown dramatically. In the past year alone, it surged 25 percent above the previous year to reach 1,118 students, ranking UTTC in the upper third of the nation's tribal colleges and universities in size of enrollment.

      "We've made the point again and again, there's a very strong need for the educational services we provide," said Gipp. "Our model is, perhaps, unique in the country, in that we serve the entire family."

      As one of the few tribal colleges not located on a reservation, UTTC is seen as a safe and supportive learning environment away from home - one that offers the attractive benefits of daycare and housing.

      Two childhood development centers for the infants and toddlers of college students, and a K-to-8 elementary school, all located on the college campus, are at maximum enrollment.

      During the current academic year, the UTTC housing department easily filled the 76 family residences on campus and worked with local housing bureaus to place over 100 more families in apartments in the community.

      "We hope to convince the administration and those in Washington who will listen that we are in the business of restoring family values," said Gipp. "If anything, we need more funding for campus housing, classroom space and support services."

      Although support for tribal colleges has not been a federal spending priority, UTTC has managed to build momentum for a campus improvement and expansion plan calling for new facilities to serve as many as 2,000 students. Construction is set to start later this year on two apartment style housing complexes to meet some of the demand for family housing. Contractors are currently busy on a $2.7 million campus wellness center, scheduled for completion in summer.

      "Our formula relies on more than just the BIA appropriation," said Twila Martin Kekahbah, UTTC's director of research and development.

      Martin Kekahbah oversees a student scholarship fundraising campaign, which is off to a strong start on raising $5 million in private sector support.

      "The core funding is very important, but other federal agencies and philanthropic organizations have taken the time to review our outcomes. They've seen the numerous strengths of our institution," said Martin Kekahbah. "We're happy to say that the BIA is only one contributor to the progress we're making."

      In 2005 the college honored its largest graduating class, 115, and expects an even greater number for this year's commencement ceremony in May.

      "It's a misperception that the college will close next year because some funding wasn't proposed," said Gipp. "The need for our work is tied to the growing numbers of younger American Indians in the population seeking higher education. We know that our services are critical to their success in life and the rebuilding of tribal communities. When it comes to something as important as that, it doesn't end on the basis of a misinformed budget recommendation."

 

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