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For tribal colleges, sequestration would be devastating

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Looming federal cuts would force Fort Peck Community College in Montana to close its community-based wellness centers and eliminate its GED and adult basic education program.

Photo: Fort Peck Community College

​Organizations that depend on federal funding—including community colleges—are hunkering down for automatic funding cuts as a result of federal lawmakers failing to craft a deficit-cutting plan by the March 1 deadline.

During the past week, many associations, special interest groups and others have outlined the potential effects of the impending sequestration. Some of those groups are smaller, but the impact on their members can be especially devastating. Among them is the American Indian Higher Education Consortium (AIHEC), which represents 37 tribally controlled institutions, including community colleges. According to AIHEC, federal cuts to tribal colleges, which already operate on shoe-string budgets, would result in campus reductions to:

  • student financial aid
  • support services (including daycare and tutoring)
  • administrative resources, courses and training
  • degree programs
  • community outreach activities and services

“Native people deserve a real chance to succeed in postsecondary education—particularly in those programs offered by TCUs (tribally controlled universities, including community colleges)—because they understand that earning a degree or credential allows them and their communities to reap short- and long-term life and societal benefits,” AIHEC President and CEO Carrie Billy said in press release.

Specific examples

AIHEC provided examples of prospective impacts over the first seven months of sequestration on member college campuses. Fort Peck Community College, located on a reservation in northeastern Montana, would have to close its community-based wellness centers, eliminate its GED and adult basic education program, and end extracurricular activities for students.

Little Big Horn College (Montana) would lose $225,000 from its basic institutional operations budget, resulting in the loss of two faculty positions and its summer session. In turn, this would mean it would take students longer to earn their degrees, thereby increasing the cost of attending college for students and their families. The college is also considering a four-day summer work week, essentially cutting staff incomes by 20 percent.

Sitting Bull College on the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota and South Dakota faces a cut of nearly $1 million. In addition to shifting health insurance costs to employees, freezing salaries and eliminating planned cost-of-living adjustments, the college would have to close its doors this summer, which means the elimination of programs for high school and middle school students. It could also mean the cancellation of the college's annual Lakota Language Summit at a time when Native languages are threatened with disappearing, AIHEC said.

In Wisconsin, the College of Menominee Nation could see a $1.1-million cut, which equates to the loss of funding for 35 employees, the projected loss of 100 or more American Indian students and the elimination of some courses.

In the farthest northern point in Alaska, Ilisagvik College would face a cut of $355,000, resulting in curbs to the college's Student Success Center activities, including tutoring, learning center staff and student support services. Ilisagvik's thriving extension program and summer camp bridging programs for Native Alaskan youths are also threatened by prospective federal cuts. 

"It would be a real disaster if we were to lose these funds," said Ilisagvik College President Pearl Kiyawn Nageak Brower.

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