Landmark Legislation Underlines Obama’s Education CommitmentMay 15th, 2010 | By cbilly | Category: 21-4: Native American Studies, Summer 2010
At a community college in a Washington, DC, suburb recently, I joined an energetic gathering of college students and administrators, advocates, and a handful of American Indian students from Sisseton High School to witness an historic event: President Barrack Obama signed landmark legislation to transform the U.S. student loan program and fund.
It was an honor to be invited to the signing ceremony for the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act after working for it with our many partners over the past few years. Most of the new initiatives in this law focus specifically on community colleges. So the tribal colleges and universities (TCUs) certainly have reason to cheer.
The legislation contains something even more exciting for our institutions: $300 million in vitally needed funding to TCUs over a 10-year period. These resources will be distributed by formula to the TCUs beginning early this fall in $30 million annual increments. The money will help our institutions develop and expand access and completion programs, establish new pipeline partnership programs, strengthen capacity and infrastructure, and grow endowments.
As the most under-resourced institutions of higher education in the country, tribal colleges face growing challenges as they work to fulfill their missions of making higher education accessible for more American Indians, strengthening our tribes and communities, preserving our cultures and lands, and revitalizing our languages.
But President Obama’s personal commitment to higher education for all is just as important. The Sisseton students witnessed the President’s important message: You will not be forgotten. You are important to our nation, our world, and our future.
Standing on the stage that day, Mr. Obama was so much more than President of the United States. To the young people of color in the audience, President Obama was one of them. As he spoke, their eyes began to shine with pride and an innate – but long suppressed – sense of equality. I believe the spirit of those young people was forever changed by the President’s comfortable dignity, by his words, and by his actions. As they left the auditorium, the students buzzed with excitement and anticipation for the future.
As I walked with the students, I realized that tribal colleges, their faculty, and their graduates have that same power. They literally are changing the world as they touch the lives of thousands and thousands of American Indians every day – as Native teachers in the classroom, Native faculty in the research lab, Native health professionals, and Native college presidents. All are role models to our children and youth in fields we never even dreamed of a generation ago.
We’ve come a long way since the first tribal college was established a little over 40 years ago. It’s wonderful to think about and even greater to witness. Yes, we still have much to accomplish as Native peoples and as a nation. But we’ll get there one day. I just hope the first Native President of the United States remembers to invite President Obama to her first signing ceremony.