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President Barack Obama’s goal to significantly increase college completion by 2020 must encompass all types of education institutions, including tribal colleges, which are often in rural areas and lack needed resources.
To stress the importance of tribal colleges—and to prepare for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan’s arrival in South Dakota on Friday to discuss rural education—more than a half dozen tribal college leaders held a news conference this week at Oglala Lakota College in South Dakota to outline the importance of federal funding to their institutions and the importance of higher education in serving Native Americans.
William Mendoza, acting director of the White House Initiative on Tribal Colleges and Universities—an initiative launched last year—said the administration wants to provide resources to tribal colleges while preserving tribal self-governance.
“This administration is committed to giving Native American families the tools that they need to succeed by supporting postsecondary education at tribal colleges and universities and providing higher education scholarships,” Mendoza said. “To do what is best for Indian students, we must collaborate with people who know the students and communities best.”
To meet Obama's college completion goal, South Dakota tribal higher education institutions will need to nearly double their number of graduates, from 241 a year to 465 by 2020, Mendoza said.
Requesting more funding
Aware that federal lawmakers are looking for places to cut federal spending, college leaders at the meeting noted that they need more resources to meet those goals.
Cynthia Lundquist, president of Candeska Cikana Community College (North Dakota), said tribal higher education institutions do their best with what they have, but there is a demand for their services, and more services can be provided with additional funding.
“We do our best with the limited resources we have to have our students succeed,” Lundquist said.
The presidents also asked federal officials to urge Obama to sign an executive order that would fund tribal colleges and universities separately from other federal education programs.
Mendoza said tribal colleges should consider other ways of leveraging resources, such as partnering with state colleges and universities. He noted the teams could apply for an Augustus F. Hawkins Centers for Excellence grant, a new $40-million initiative that supports teacher preparation at minority-serving institutions.
There are 36 federally recognized tribal colleges and universities in the U.S., located mainly in the Midwest and Southwest. They serve about 30,000 full- and part-time students and offer associate degrees in more than 200 disciplines, with some offering bachelor's and master's degrees, as well as 200 vocational certificate programs.
Last year, the U.S. Education Department awarded 63 grants, totaling nearly $53 million to colleges and universities that serve American Indian students. The grants provide funding to improve and strengthen the academic quality, institutional management and fiscal stability of the institutions.
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