Senate Committee Examines Higher Education For American Indian Students

By Brittany Hackett, Communications Staff 

Panelists on Wednesday urged the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs to increase support for American Indian and Alaska Native (AI/AN) students seeking higher education, including more funding for tribally controlled colleges and universities (TCUs).

During the first panel of the hearing, Department of Education (ED) Under Secretary Jamienne Studley told the committee that AI/AN students are less prepared for college and careers and more likely to drop out of high school than other subgroups. Moreover, these students fall behind white students in higher education attainment, with only 17 percent of AI/AN 25-to-29-year-olds holding bachelors degrees in 2013, according to Census Bureau data. AI/AN students accounted for only 1 percent of the total college enrollment between 1976 and 2012, Studley noted. 

“These statistics make it clear that more must be done to expand and improve education opportunities and outcomes for AI/AN students,” Studley said in her testimony, which outlined steps ED and the Obama administration are taking to achieve that goal. 

Studley said there were several provisions included in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget that would help TCUs and AI/AN students, including:

  • A $53 million request for Title III Strengthening Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities program, including $25.2 million in discretionary funds and $27.8 million in mandatory funds;
  • $75 million for College Success Grants for Minority-Serving Institutions and Historically Black Colleges and Universities;
  • $647 million in mandatory funding or the College Opportunity and Graduation Bonus program; and 
  • $75 million for a First in the World fund which, among other things, would place a strong emphasis on college access strategies for low income, minority, and first generation college-goers.

“At a time when higher education is more important than ever for our shared future, the nation must continue to invest in resources to improve college completion for the AI/AN community,” Studley said. “This is essential for maximizing both individual opportunity and our collective economic prosperity.”

The hearing’s second panel included: 

  • Billie Jo Kipp, president of Blackfeet Community College, 
  • Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund, 
  • Thomas Les Purce, president of Evergreen State College, and

Melvin Monette, director of Graduate Fellowships at the American Indian Graduate Center.

In her testimony, Kipp said that her institution and other TCUs have “taken hope and pitifully few dollars and shaped them into opportunity.”

“We make all of this possible as holistic tribal institutions of higher education, but over the past several years, changes in federal policy and funding priorities have made our work even more difficult,” Kipp said.

Among the recommendations she provided to the committee, Kipp suggested the adoption of a five-year plan to address the long-term inequalities TCUs face in the federal programs, beginning with the FY2015 budget and appropriations cycle.

Monette told the committee, “Colleges and federal agencies should fund Native education programs that strengthen tribal self-determination, such as tribal education agencies, and ensure resources are appropriated to the [Bureau of Indian Education] to address student concerns and needed systematic changes.”


Publication Date: 6/12/2014

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