Proposed Congressional Cuts Would Hit TCUs Disproportionately

May 13th, 2011 | By | Category: 22-4: Honoring Student Success
By Carrie Billy

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D.

Earlier this year, tribal college presidents, students, and board members traveled to Washington, DC, for our annual Capitol Hill meetings. This year, the first day of our meetings coincided with the release of President Obama’s proposed federal budget for Fiscal Year 2012.

Typically, this event signals a start to negotiations that will result in a federal spending plan for the next year. But at press time, nearly six months into the fiscal year, Congress still had not reached consensus on the current year’s budget.

New House members announced they would make big—and immediate— steps to reduce the $1.3 trillion federal budget deficit. That is a laudable goal. But many would accept cuts only from the 12.5% of the budget that comprises discretionary spending.

Because operating funds and various programmatic initiatives for tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) come from the federal domestic discretionary budget, TCUs could be asked to bear a disproportionate share of these cuts.

The federal responsibility for TCUs is indisputable: TCUs are chartered by federally-recognized Indian tribes who signed binding treaties with the United States government in exchange for more than a billion acres of land. The treaties involve responsibilities, including education.

Further, all federally-funded TCU programs are “authorized”—Congress has passed legislation sanctioning them. None are earmarks.

Yet, as of this writing, Congress has proposed eliminating two TCU programs, including the $8.2 million per year Tribal Postsecondary Career and Technical Education program and a $5 million per year U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-TCU facilities program that TCUs leverage to build community libraries, health and fitness centers, day care/early childhood learning centers, and entrepreneurial centers.

Diné College provides a typical example: It leveraged $600,000 in HUD funding into a $5.2 million tribal/state/federal partnership to build the Shiprock, NM, community/college library.

Another federal grantee, Navajo Technical College (NTC) in Crownpoint, NM, reports a retention rate of more than 72%, as reported elsewhere in this issue. The college’s remediation success rates are even more remarkable. Last year, when NTC provided GED training to 114 students, 91 completed; 287 students took remedial reading, and all but 13 passed. Of the 518 students enrolled in remedial math, an astonishing 497 completed the course. NTC’s enrollment of American Indians in science, technology, engineering, and math has increased by 600% in the last five years.

The cuts Congress proposed would irrevocably shake the foundation from which these successes grow.

AIHEC is aggressively trying to save these vital programs. We cannot do it alone. To tell our story, we need the voices of all who are concerned about equity, tribal sovereignty, community-based education, and long-term fiscal responsibility. To learn more, go to Ahéhee’!

Carrie Billy (Diné), J.D., is President and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium.

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