AIHEC’s Efforts Pay Off With ‘05 Funding Increase

Feb 15th, 2005 | By | Category: 16-3: Indigenizing Education, Tribal College News
By Meg Goetz

TCU FRIENDS. U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT) (top) and U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) championed budget increases for the tribal colleges and universities.

The 109th Congress convened Jan. 4, 2005, with increased GOP strength in both chambers, and 16 days later George W. Bush was once again inaugurated as President of the United States.

What does this mean for tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) and their prospects for getting adequate funding to operate their institutions? Most likely TCUs will continue to have to rely on their friends in Congress to contend with the maddening three-steps forward, two-steps back pattern of the last several years.

Fortunately, these Congressional friends succeeded in overturning the decreases recommended by the Bush administration again in the fiscal year 2005 (FY05) appropriations, despite the odds against them. Thanks to these members of Congress, the colleges received a $10.5 million increase in December 2004 over what the administration had requested.

When submitting its budget to Congress in February 2004, the administration recognized that two new tribal colleges were eligible for funding under the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act (the Tribal College Act). Despite the increased need, the administration recommended cuts of $5.5 million from the previous year.

The prospects for the tribal colleges and universities seemed grim because of the administration’s proposed cuts combined with an uncertain national economic picture, the escalating war in Iraq, and the increased costs for Homeland Security programs.

Although final passage of the massive Omnibus Appropriations bill was delayed until mid-December, the persistent advocacy efforts by the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC) paid off in the end. The FY05 appropriation is $5 million over the previous year.

Two of the tribal colleges’ most ardent champions, U.S. Senators Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), led the effort. They are the chair and ranking member, respectively, of the Senate Interior Appropriations subcommittee.

Funding under the Tribal College Act is critical to the colleges’ very existence, and fortunately Congress recognizes this. While other institutions of higher education enjoy a foundation of state support, most TCUs are located on federal trust lands. Thus states have no obligation to fund them.

In most cases, the states do not even provide funding for the non-Indian students, despite the fact that approximately 20% of TCU students are non-Indian.

Congress first funded the Tribal College Act in fiscal year 1981, providing $2,831 per Indian student toward the day-to-day operations of the colleges under the act. In the 23 years since, the number of colleges eligible for funding has risen to 27, and enrollments in the colleges funded under the act have increased by 353%.

Congress has authorized $6,000 per Indian student. The funding per student this year is $4,447 for the colleges funded under the act, which is about 74% of the authorized level. If inflation is considered, the colleges would need close to the full $6,000 simply to have the same buying power they had in 1981 when they were first funded.

In addition to providing increases for colleges funded by the Tribal College Act, Congress agreed to reinstate funding for Crownpoint Institute of Technology (Crownpoint, NM) and United Tribes Technical College (Bismarck, ND) at an increased level of $1.75 million and $3.5 million respectively. The president’s FY05 budget once again had recommended eliminating the funds for both colleges. Funds for the Institute of American Indian Arts (Santa Fe, NM) will be slightly reduced.

Besides the Tribal College Act funds, tribal colleges and universities have programs funded through several other federal agencies. Remarkably, in this latest budget/appropriations cycle, these other funds were reduced for only two of the tribal-college specific programs. All other programs were either maintained or increased with the signing of the long-awaited FY05 Omnibus Appropriations bill.

Meg Goetz has been the director of Congressional relations for the American Indian Higher Education Consortium since 1998.

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