Washington, D.C., April 17, 2007—Significant new federal investments are required to reverse decades of underinvestment in Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) that have resulted in major educational deficiencies for American Indians, according to Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP) President Jamie P. Merisotis during his recent testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee of Indian Affairs.
“Low college access and degree achievement rates have been a persistent problem for American Indians, the result of decades of neglect, marginalization, and discrimination,” Merisotis said. “As one of the main drivers of economic and social development for all American Indian communities, TCUs are critical to the future success of these communities.”
Federal funds are the only viable option available for addressing the financial needs of TCUs, Merisotis said. Because these institutions are usually located on Federal trust territories, they cannot access state funds or local tax levies, the resources typically used to provide the core of public college operating budgets. Despite Federal trust and treaty responsibilities to Indian tribes, Merisotis noted that since 1981, Federal support at TCUs has declined by 30 percent after inflation. In addition, the President’s 2008 Budget inexplicably proposes an additional unprecedented cut of almost 20 percent in funding for TCUs under Title III of the Higher Education Act. This exacerbates an already critical budget situation at many TCUs and perpetuates a policy of neglect towards American Indian communities.
At the April 13 Committee hearing, Merisotis suggested three simple but effective policy changes that will intervene and stabilize the current situation:
- Increase funding for the operating expenses of TCUs and increase the level authorized under the Tribally Controlled College or University Assistance Act of 1978.
Current appropriations per Indian student total $5,001 and have never reached their legislatively authorized annual level of $6,000 per student. Future support should be tied to inflation to ensure that funding keeps pace with overall costs.
- Increase the capacity of TCUs to serve students by increasing support for facilities and critical infrastructure needs.
As land-grant institutions, TCUs have the right to receive resources that can be invested in additional faculty or equipment to conduct agricultural research. The 1996 White House Executive Order on Tribal Colleges and Universities directs all federal departments and agencies to increase their financial support to TCUs. However, only modest sums have been made available. Congress can correct this inequity by establishing a facilities and infrastructure equity plan to TCUs that provides a level of support that is comparable on a per-student basis to the sums available to other land-grant institutions.
- Enhance the development of TCUs to better serve students through increased support under Title III of the Higher Education Act.
Title III provides vital services to support basic enhancements to curriculum, faculty development, and infrastructure costs at TCUs; however, the Administration continues to propose unprecedented budget cuts. To correct the continuing shortfall of funds under Title III, Merisotis proposed that funding for TCUs be formula-based so that these institutions do not have to participate in competitive grants processes. In addition, the authorization level for funds should be raised to at least $40 million, and the U.S. Senate Committee of Indian Affairs needs to use its leverage to ensure that funds are fulfilled to the authorized level.
Merisotis urged the Committee to continue its “bipartisan history of support for TCUs and act without delay to make these investments that are so critical to the future prosperity and security of American Indian communities. In so doing, our nation will be strengthened and sustained for many generations to come,” he concluded.
Earlier this year, IHEP collaborated with the American Indian Higher Education Consortium and the American Indian College Fund to produce The Path of Many Journeys: The Benefits of Higher Education for Native People and Communities. The report demonstrates that higher education drives economic and social development for all American Indian communities and the entire nation. To download a free copy of any IHEP publication, visit the organization’s Web site at www.ihep.org or send a request via e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.