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Two tribal colleges left behind by President Bush
Monday, April 16, 2007
Filed Under: Education | Politics

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Two tribal colleges whose budgets have been repeatedly cut by the Bush administration have finally found a political solution to their budget problems.

Become a favorite of Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne.

That appears to be the only way to ensure the United Tribes Technical College in North Dakota and Navajo Technical College in New Mexico won't end up on the cutting floor again. For the past six years, both institutions have had their budgets zeroed out by the administration.

David Gipp, the president of UTTC, has tried to figure out why. For more than 30 years, the Bureau of Indian Affairs always funded the school up until President Bush came on board in 2001.

Given UTTC's strong tribal support and academic success, Gipp told the Senate Indian Affairs Committee last Thursday that he couldn't understand how that happened. He finally found out at a meeting with the White House Office of Management and Budget.

"The most frank answer I've received from this administration is that until you're a favorite of the secretary of the Interior, you're not going to get funding," he said. "It's a political question.

Congress has repeatedly restored funds to UTTC and NTC, citing their benefits for tribes and students. Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-North Dakota), the chairman of the committee, said tribal colleges help people with limited options for higher education become successful.

"Tribal colleges allow that opportunity to exist," he said at the hearing. "For those reasons, I strongly support the tribal collect system."

But there are two major obstacles facing UTTC and NTC. One is the administration's focus on K-12 education, through the No Child Left Behind Act, which means the entire tribal college system is not a priority.

"We're trying to make the most of the funds we do have," said assistant secretary Carl Artman, in his first appearance before the committee since taking control of the BIA.

The second obstacle is the law. According to the administration, UTTC and NTC don't quality for funding under the same act of Congress as the other 30-plus tribal colleges, so there is nothing holding the BIA accountable for these institutions.

Members of Congress from both parties have repeatedly restored money to the two schools. But Elmer Guy, the president of Navajo Technical College, said the lack of support from the administration places uncertainty and stress on the community.

"Education is about the future, and when the future is clouded and troubles seems to always verge on creating disaster, then planning efforts go awry, key professionals look for other jobs, students question if they should make a decision that is in their best interest, and keeping everyday tasks going gets harder," Guy's testimony stated.

To prevent uncertainty in the future, the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, which represents all the tribal colleges, wants Congress to amend the law to include UTTC and NTC. The group also wants Congress to increase the base level of funding, as well as future funding, for the colleges.

As for the political question, Dorgan pressed Artman, a member of the Oneida Nation of Wisconsin, to become a "missionary" for the schools. He said he hoped the 2009 budget proposal -- the last of the Bush administration -- would finally contain money for UTTC and NTC.

"I know you want to be there to make a difference," Dorgan told Artman. "We want to help you make a difference."

Senate Hearing:
OVERSIGHT HEARING on Tribal Colleges and Universities (April 12, 2007)

Relevant Links:
American Indian College Fund - http://collegefund.org
American Indian Higher Education Consortium - http://www.aihec.org
Tribal Colleges and Universities - http://www.ed.gov/about/inits/list/whtc/edlite-index.html

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Transfer agreement helps tribal college graduates (3/22)
North Dakota tribal colleges discuss funding bill (3/6)
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