Legislator seeks to correct disproportionate funding for tribal college students

Legislator seeks to correct disproportionate funding for tribal college students, Missoula Independent, January 28, 2015


Over the past year, administrators at Montana’s seven tribally controlled colleges have grown increasingly vocal about a disparity in state funding for higher education. While per-student reimbursements to community institutions like Flathead Valley Community College have gradually increased due to inflation and changing economic conditions, similar considerations have not been extended to funding for non-Indian students at tribal colleges, resulting in a serious lag.

Non-Indian students currently make up roughly 30 percent of the total student population at Salish Kootenai College.

“Whenever we educate a non-Native student, it costs us,” says Blackfeet Community College President Billie Jo Kipp. “We have no problem because we believe education should be available to everybody, but Montana tends to see it differently.”

The Montana Budget and Policy Center released a report on the issue last week, revealing that tribal colleges receive roughly half the financial support for a non-Indian student as other community colleges would for the same student. The report concluded that “our state investments should not promote inequality.” Kipp echoes the sentiment, calling the disparity “racial inequity in educational funding.”

“Compared to what Dawson Community College gets, we get $3,000,” she says. “They get $6,740. We provide similar services, we provide similar—if not more—training programs, workforce development programs, to non-Natives as well.”

With the help of several other state lawmakers from tribal communities, Rep. Susan Webber, D-Browning, has spent the past few weeks working on a potential fix in the Montana Legislature. House Bill 196, which drew support from administrators and non-Indian students during a committee hearing Jan. 26, would remove the $3,024 cap on non-Indian student funding to tribal colleges set in 2013 and replace it with a baseline amount for allocations to be adjusted for inflation each biennium.

“The idea is that we’re all in the game of educating Montanans,” says Rep. George Kipp III, D-Heart Butte, adding that tribal colleges have increasingly become “feeder schools” to bigger campuses like the University of Montana and Montana State University.

Webber, who also serves on BCC’s board of trustees, says the increased funding proposed in the bill could help accelerate the growth already taking place on Montana’s tribal college campuses, and would harness the influx of non-Indian students in recent years. Non-Indian students now make up 30 percent of total enrollment at Salish Kootenai College; Kipp notes a similar increase at BCC in response to the expansion of its nursing program and its continued development of four-year programs.

“All we’re trying to do with this bill,” says Sen. Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, D-Crow Agency, “is equal the playing field and provide adequate resources for tribally controlled colleges who are providing a service to all Montanans.”

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