Colleges Score Victory in Ongoing Funds Battle

Feb 15th, 2004 | By | Category: 15-3: English Only?, Tribal College News
By Meg Goetz

With President George W. Bush’s recommended cuts in tribal college funding, a difficult economy, and the expanded war on terrorism, this fiscal year (FY 2004) looked like it might be the worst year in many for tribal colleges.

However, thanks to two of the tribal colleges’ most ardent champions, U.S. Sens. Conrad Burns (R-MT) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND), the Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) received their largest increase in institutional operating funds to date when the FY 2004 Interior Appropriations measure was signed into law on Nov. 10, 2003.

The funding provided by Congress through the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act (the Tribal College Act) means the difference between being able to open their doors or not for some of the nation’s tribal colleges. While mainstream institutions have a foundation of state support, TCUs must rely on the federal government for their institutional operating funds.

Because TCUs are located on federal trust lands, states have no obligation to fund them and in most cases do not even support the education of non-Indians at the TCUs.

Burns is the chair and Dorgan the ranking member of the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, and together they represent more than one-third of the nation’s tribal colleges. At the beginning of the FY 2004 appropriations cycle, they banded together and openly questioned the Department of the Interior’s seemingly erratic practices for determining distribution of Tribal College Act funding and historic lackluster support for these proven institutions.

Going into the House-Senate conference, the Senate-passed version of the FY 2004 Interior bill included $10 million more than the version adopted by the House of Representatives, which reflected the president’s budget request. Faced with such a wide margin, the Bipartisan Senate Task Force on Tribal Colleges and Universities, established by Sens. Burns and Kent Conrad (D-ND) last year, rallied behind the higher amount.

Their efforts succeeded. The House receded to the Senate position on institutional operations funding for the colleges authorized under the Tribal College Act. The Interior conference committee also reinstated funding for Crownpoint Institute of Technology (Crownpoint, NM) and United Tribes Technical College (Bismarck, ND), which had been eliminated in the President’s 2004 budget.

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 funded under the act. In the 22 years since then, the number of colleges eligible for funding under the act has increased to 27, and enrollments have increased by 332%. Yet despite the $10 million increase in FY 2004 appropriations, basic institutional operations funding has increased only $1,399 per Indian student. Factor in inflation, and this level of funding has the buying power equal to about $2,078, a decrease of about $753 per Indian student.

In addition to institutional operating funds, tribal colleges receive program funding through several other federal appropriations measures. However, as usual in recent years, most of the bills that fund these programs were rolled into an Omnibus Appropriations bill that Congress has not enacted yet at press time.

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

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