Funding for Tribal Colleges signed into law

Char-Koosta News, April 30, 2015

HELENA – On April 9, Governor Bullock signed into law House Bill 196, revising laws related to tribal colleges and setting up a higher per-student distribution for non-Indian resident students. This bill authorizes an 8% increase to the per-student funding that tribal colleges receive for non-Indian resident students, subject to appropriations, changing the distribution rate from $3,024 to $3,280 per non-Indian student. This is the first increase to the statute since 2006.

“I am very pleased this bill survived,” said Rep. Webber. “This will provide support to non-tribal students who choose to pursue a college degree, while also ensuring that tribal colleges have the funds needed to keep tuition affordable.”

“In Montana, tribal colleges and universities benefit the state economy and provide an affordable option for quality post-secondary education,” said Laura John, State-Tribal Policy Analyst for the Montana Budget and Policy Center. “House Bill 196 takes us one step closer to reaching adequate funding levels needed to support Montana’s non-tribal students.”

The Governor’s signing of the bill is a momentous occasion, after the bill nearly died two weeks ago. On April 8, the Senate Finance and Claims Committee voted to table the bill. Within two hours, Senator Jonathan Windy Boy blasted the bill onto the Senate Floor, by a 26 to 24 vote. Following the blast, the bill garnered strong support, by votes of 81-18 in the House and 33-17 in the Senate.

Tribal colleges rely primarily on federal funding provided through the Tribally Controlled Colleges and Universities Act (TCCU) to cover the majority of general operating budgets. This funding is only tied to the number of students who are members of a federally-recognized tribe or qualifying descendent. Tribal colleges receive no federal support for non-tribal student enrollment, leaving the colleges to absorb much of the cost of education to keep tuition at the same level as tribal students. There are seven tribal colleges in Montana. Nonbeneficiary students (students not enrolled in a federally recognized tribe) can make up between 5-30% of tribal college enrollment.

Montana is one of three states to provide funding for nonbeneficiary students. However, this funding is capped. This per-student figure is the maximum amount allowed under Montana law and is nearly half the amount provided to other state-funded colleges in Montana. Between 2008 and 2014, community colleges in Montana have received a 94% increase in the per-student funding ($2,754 to $5,364), based on a formula that accounts for inflation. During this same span, tribal colleges have not seen an increase. Between 2001 and 2012, non-beneficiary student enrollment at tribal colleges in Montana increased 20%.

HB196 was amended in committee in the Senate, and removed language to provide a biennial increase to account for inflation in costs of educating students who attend tribal colleges.

The Montana Budget and Policy Center is a nonprofit organization providing in-depth research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues.

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