Education | Opinion

David Gipp: United Tribes Technical College earns federal money

David M. Gipp, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, is the president of United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck, North Dakota.

United Tribes Technical College is closely watching the budget battle in Washington, DC. We have a strong interest in how the members of Congress and the President resolve their differences and fund government for the remainder of this fiscal year.

As news reports have indicated, a sizable portion of our operational funding was not contained in a Continuing Resolution passed by the U. S. House of Representatives. Left out was funding for United Tribes contained in a section of the Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Act.

Now, as the budget is debated in Congress, we find ourselves caught up in the fray, our funding in limbo, as lawmakers search for a compromise solution.

I want to reassure our staff, students, friends and supporters that United Tribes has sufficient funding at the present time. If our funding status is not resolved, however, the financial reality would hit the college and the Bismarck/Mandan community in August, around the time we open our Fall Semester.

The funding is about $3.7 million. It represents 46 percent of the college’s annual operational funding. These education funds are supplemental to an award we receive from the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

United Tribes and other tribal colleges and universities are well aware of the nation’s budget problems. Living and operating on the margins of society, we are all too familiar with what it takes to provide educational opportunities on limited funding. We are accustomed to its unpredictable nature. But we have no practical way of making up for the loss of something the size of the career and technical funds.

Our funding mix relies heavily on Federal funds because of the Federal government’s long-standing legal obligations for Indian education. And, we lack the kind of direct access to a tax base that funds other higher educational institutions. We understand the need for fiscal restraint. But cuts cannot, and should not, be made based on erroneous information.

Carl Perkins funding is awarded on a competitive basis for tribally controlled post-secondary career and technical institutions. We have earned a share of it each year since 1991 when the law was enacted. This hardly makes us a pork barrel project.

United Tribes is a well-established educational institution with over four decades of successful service. We fulfill a vital role in providing a high-quality college education, jobs training and career-building programs for students who come from some of the nation’s poorest rural areas – communities that continually suffer high rates of unemployment and economic distress.

The career and technical training we deliver benefits Americans with the greatest need. It opens the pathway to independence through jobs that allow them to contribute to society as taxpaying citizens.

Being caught up in the federal budget snafu brought out the best in our friends and supporters. Bismarck Mayor John Warford and the city commission were quick to express strong support for us.

Senator Kent Conrad took the lead on corrective action in a budget proposal that advanced through the Senate and said he will fight for the appropriation. His consistent and clear leadership on the federal budget is well recognized. He knows that resources invested in education benefit the nation’s future.

Congressman Rick Berg and Senator John Hoeven joined with their support. They know we are not a dreaded earmark in the federal budget. They say they will support United Tribes’ funding as they participate in working out a budget for the remainder of this year.

United Tribes is grateful for these commitments to secure this essential portion of the college’s funding.

Even with the federal budget still up in the air, it is early enough for us that lawmakers can reach a compromise and resolve the budget before it becomes a problem that impacts our future.

I am confident there will be good news about United Tribes soon.

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