Sequestration poses serious threat to tribal colleges and universities

Mar 5th, 2013 | By | Category: Tribal College News, Web Exclusive

Leaders from the nation’s 37 tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) are calling on federal lawmakers to protect more than 88,000 American Indian and Alaska Native students and community members served by TCUs from the deep budget cuts known as sequestration. Automatic cuts equaling $85 billion will have a devastating impact on TCUs and tribal communities across the country.

The American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), the collective spirit and unifying voice of the TCUs, issued the following statement today from its president and CEO, Carrie L. Billy:

Sequestration undermines the trust, treaty, and statutory obligations to American Indian tribal governments. It is a travesty to democracy and could be cataclysmic for American Indian higher education, which impacts every aspect of life in our nation’s tribal communities and reservations. Given the nation’s unique relationship, responsibility, and the promise of this Administration and many in this Congress to respect and expand tribal sovereignty, we believe a cut of this magnitude and issued in this manner is not only irresponsible, it is unconscionable. It will be catastrophic to TCUs, which have been operating since their inception on austere budgets. TCU students and communities that rank among the poorest in the nation will see a significant drop in student financial aid; support services (including daycare and tutoring); administrative resources, courses, and training; degree programs offered; and community outreach activities and services.

Over the past 40 years–operating on shoe-string budgets–TCUs have been making slow but steady progress through culturally-relevant and community-based higher education to address the socio-economic challenges that have plagued American Indian communities for more than two centuries. Now, the nation’s 37 TCUs will experience across-the-board cuts as a result of sequestration, to programs and budgets that have no fat to trim. This indiscriminate cutting of federal funds is short-sighted and will have a long-term negative impact on the investment made in tribal higher education. Native people deserve a real chance to succeed in postsecondary education–particularly in those programs offered by TCUs–because they understand that earning a degree or credential allows them and their communities to reap short- and long-term life and societal benefits.

To be clear, we are not seeking any handouts. We are only asking that Congress find a solution that avoids doing away with programs and services on which the nation’s only tribal institutions of higher education and their American Indian students rely. It is not too late. Congress has until March 27, before the continuing resolution that is keeping the government functioning expires. We strongly urge Congress to put the American people first, and work out a plan to responsibly address the nation’s economic deficit, and in doing so, uphold and honor the federal responsibility to meet the higher education needs of American Indian students, rather than establish additional access and success barriers to this historically underserved population.

AIHEC estimates that the first seven-month phase of sequestration will cripple TCUs operational budgets, resulting in the elimination of academic programs, the termination of faculty and staff, and the cancellation of summer course offerings. For example, the College of Menominee Nation (Keshena, WI) faces cuts up to $1.1 million, which will result in the loss of funding for 35 employees, the projected loss of 100 or more American Indian students, and the elimination of some courses of study. While the immediate, short-term effects can be determined, AIHEC leaders are also gravely concerned about the long-term socio-economic impact that sequestration will have on American Indian communities—many of which are rural and remote. TCUs not only serve as higher learning centers, but they also offer employment and community programs that help to alleviate many of the social, economic, and health problems that adversely and disproportionately affect tribal communities. For more information about AIHEC and the effects of sequestration, visit the organization’s website at www.aihec.org.

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