Historic ND Legislation Helps Pay Student Costs

Aug 15th, 2007 | By | Category: 19-1: Tribal College Students Today, Tribal College News

SMILES OF SUCCESS. Five of the proponents of the historic North Dakota state funding law were on hand at the North Dakota State Legislature in April, from left: Sitting Bull College President Dr. Laurel Vermillion; Tom Disselhorst, legal counsel, and David M. Gipp, president, both of United Tribes Technical College; Chad Kramer, research analyst, ND Indian Affairs Commission; and ND Association of Tribal Colleges Executive Director Phyllis Howard. Photo by Dennis Neumann.

North Dakota legislators voted for the first time to provide state funds for non-Indian students attending the five tribal colleges in the state. The Montana Legislature this year doubled the amount of funds it provides for such students.

The North Dakota law authorizes an appropriation of $700,000 over two years to help pay educational costs for non-beneficiary students. Non-Indian students do not benefit from the federal institutional funding for tribal colleges, which is provided only for Indian students. In North Dakota, the non-beneficiaries total about 7% of the approximate 2,600 students attending tribal colleges there.

For nearly 40 years, tribal colleges have been subsidizing the education of non-Indian students. “They’re members of our community, so they can come to our college,” said Dr. Cynthia Lindquist Mala, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College (Fort Totten, ND). “We don’t discriminate.”

Nationwide, about 20% of today’s tribal college students are classified as non-beneficiary, according to the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC). Funding for these students is derived primarily from tuition. This places a tremendous burden on the already cash-strapped colleges.

Of the 13 states with tribal colleges, only two – Montana, and Nebraska – help defray the costs of educating non-beneficiary students. A few other states have provided tribal colleges with some funding for purposes such as construction and work-based learning, but most states do not help support education by tribal colleges within their boundaries.

South Dakota is among the states that do not support non-beneficiaries at tribal colleges, despite repeated efforts, says Thomas H. Shortbull (Oglala), president of Oglala Lakota College and a former state senator. “Tribal colleges do the same thing for non-Natives as for Indians; they provide valuable career training and keep people off public assistance,” he says.

Education at a tribal college for non-Native students is “an awfully good deal for states,” says Dr. Joseph F. McDonald (Salish/Kootenai), president of Salish Kootenai College (Pablo, MT). Montana now provides a maximum of $3,024 each year for each full-time equivalent student. The North Dakota law will provide approximately $2,000 per year per student, which is less than half of what the state spends to support college students in the North Dakota university system.

Non-Indians attend tribal colleges for a variety of reasons. Some are married to tribal members. Others are local farmers, ranchers, and other community members who want to attend college but have strong ties to the area, says Dr. Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College (SBC, Fort Yates, ND).

Jim Kasper, a Republican lawmaker who sponsored the tribal college funding bill in North Dakota, said, “A lot of these people would not go to college if they didn’t go to a tribal college first. I think it’s an issue of fairness.” The tribal colleges have asked the North Dakota Legislature for such action many times in the past, but this year the state had a projected $527 million surplus.

In addition to Lindquist Mala and Vermillion, the other tribal college leaders who pushed for the legislation are: Dr. Jim Davis, president of the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges and president of Turtle Mountain Community College, Belcourt, ND; David M. Gipp, president of United Tribes Technical College (UTTC, Bismarck, ND); and Russell Mason, Jr., president of Fort Berthold Community College, New Town, ND.

For more information contact Phyllis Howard, executive director, North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges at (701) 223-4100 or phyllis@ndatc.org, www.ndatc.org

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