It's Never Easy: Getting a College Diploma in Today’s America

Tanya H. Lee

Tribal college funding and American Indian/Alaska Native student preparedness for higher education dominated the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs’ oversight hearing on higher education this week.

Committee Chairman Jon Tester, D-Montana, opened by noting that American Indian students are less likely to attend a four-year college than any other ethnic group, and their persistence and graduation rates are lower than for other groups.

Jamienne Studley, deputy under secretary at the U.S. Department of Education, pointed out that 90 percent of AI/AN college students attend non-tribal institutions of higher education, while Billie Jo Kipp, president of Blackfeet Community College, noted in her testimony that 50 percent of Native college students enrolled in federally-recognized tribes attend the nation’s 37 tribal colleges and universities.

Kipp told the committee that keeping TCUs afloat on the “pitifully few dollars” available to them is an unending challenge that limits what TCUs can do in their communities. The federal government, she said, appropriates $5,850 per full-time Indian student. This, despite the fact, committee member Sen. Al Franken, D-Minnesota, remarked, that $8,000 per student is authorized. Asked by Franken how to get the funding up to the authorized level, Kipp reminded the Senate committee that Congress is responsible for appropriations.

Students eligible for Pell grants can get up to $5,730 per year from the federal government, but that still leaves a shortfall. Cheryl Crazy Bull, president of the American Indian College Fund, testified that a year at a TCU costs upwards of $13,000, students’ average income is $15,000 annually, and many have families to support.


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