The Johnson Scholarship Foundation Supports Economic Development Through Education

Feb 6th, 2016 | By | Category: Online TC News, Tribal College News, Web Exclusive
By Malcolm Macleod and Victoria Lackey

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation has been investing in Indian Country for almost 25 years and its grants in support of American Indian education and entrepreneurship total $1.5 million per year. The strategy is to assist economic development through business and entrepreneurship education, and two of the foundation’s programs embody that strategy: the Entrepreneurship Scholarship and the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship, created in 1995, was funded by the foundation and managed by individual tribal colleges. It provided financial assistance for students pursuing business or entrepreneurship education. The theory was that the trickle-down effect of this would contribute to business and economic development on Indian reservations.

Since then, the scholarship program has been expanded to serve American Indian students at institutions other than tribal colleges. Several of our tribal college partners, with our help, have been able to build endowments. College of Menominee Nation, Oglala Lakota College, and Salish Kootenai College, for example, have built substantial endowments which will fund scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students in perpetuity. They no longer need foundation grants for this purpose. The foundation has also worked with the American Indian College Fund to build an endowed fund to provide scholarships to business and entrepreneurship students at any tribal college.

The Entrepreneurship Scholarship Program has helped over a thousand of students graduate from tribal colleges and universities. Beyond graduation, the foundation does not keep track of the students. Some of them have started their own businesses and it is reasonable to assume that most of are making a contribution to the economic life of their communities.

The foundation’s other program, the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship was created in 2001 and was intended to support tribal college faculty in their delivery of the Entrepreneurship Scholarship program. It was designed to be taken at distance during the traditional academic year and on campus in the summer. This would allow faculty to continue teaching while obtaining the MBA.

The MBA was funded by the foundation but Gonzaga University further developed and delivered it. Gonzaga’s MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship remains the only program of its kind and has produced 53 graduates as of May 2015. In 2013, the First Nations Development Institute conducted a comprehensive evaluation of the program and found that most of its graduates had returned to their respective communities and participated in virtually every aspect of life there. As of 2013, 16 of the program’s graduates were managing their own businesses, one was a tribal college president and others were in senior positions in tribal and federal governments, colleges, and business. Program graduates have traveled and expanded the path for students coming behind them. They act as mentors and role models for American Indian students, particularly those from four-year tribal college degree programs who can pursue the MBA and continue to live in their community.

Economic growth through education is a long term proposition. There is no quick fix. Development comes from within the community and it takes time. That said, economic growth in Indian Country is increasing. In 2005, the Harvard Project on American Economic Development found in its study of socioeconomic change between the 1990 and 2000 census that “The growth in reservation residents’ per capita income was approximately three times the growth experienced by the average U.S. citizen.”

The Johnson Scholarship Foundation will continue to invest in the Entrepreneurship Scholarship, the MBA in American Indian Entrepreneurship, and in other programs that contribute to economic development in Indian County. In the words of Joseph Marshall III, the foundation will “Keep Going.”


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