Wisconsin Provides Funds for Tribal Colleges

May 15th, 2000 | By | Category: 11-4: All Our Children Are Special, Tribal College News

For the first time, the state of Wisconsin is helping support the two tribal colleges in that state this year–the College of the Menominee Nation and Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College. The Wisconsin legislature agreed to provide $300,00 to each of the tribal colleges as part of a work-based learning program.

Unlike community colleges and state universities, most tribal colleges receive no state funds even though they accept both Indian and non-Indian students. The federal government helps support the costs of educating Indian students with only $3,400 per student this year—close to half of what state-supported institutions receive, according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium. (For articles about decisions by the Arizona and New Mexico legislatures to support tribal college construction, see TCJ, Vol. XI, N. 1, p. 29 and Vol. X, N.4, p. 10.)

College of the Menominee President Dr. Verna Fowler, a tribal member, said she considered the money Indian money since it derives from casino revenue given by the tribes to the state under their compact. She credited the Menominee Tribe for its help convincing the legislature to help support the colleges. Fowler is an experienced lobbyist. In the 1970s, she assisted Ada Deer in their successful effort to restore the Menominee Tribe to federal status after being terminated in the 1950s.

Despite the legislative victory, her college suffered from severe funding shortfalls late last year when funds were delayed from three sources–the federal government, the state government, and the tribal government. Both the federal government and the state government had budget surpluses, but they took months to resolve budget differences before passing them, long after the fiscal year had started.

Because of the federal budget impasse, tribal colleges were forced to take out loans and cut back on expenditures. “It almost brings you to a stop,” Fowler said. “The biggest effect of the latest financial crunch due to the late budget is that it changes one’s entire focus. It takes your focus from developing and maintaining quality educational programs and rich student experiences to meeting the payroll and getting the bills paid. Consequently, it is extremely detrimental to the students,” she said. The college has been expanding rapidly, now serving nearly 500 students after only seven years since it was chartered. The state appropriation will be repeated next year, and Fowler hopes that it will continue to be repeated for the life of the tribal gaming compacts.

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