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Arizona summit tackles tribal education barriers

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PHOENIX (AP) – Changes are needed in how tribal education funds are released so more American Indian students can stay in college, according to Arizona tribal and education leaders.

Alberto Olivas, director of the Maricopa Community Colleges Center for Civic Participation, said that once students get to college, they are dropping out because their tuition money does not arrive in time.

Such process matters, as well as broader issues, were discussed June 24 at Mesa Community College during the first Summit of Arizona Community Colleges & Indian Nations and Tribes.

Educational barriers from the state level down to the tribal community were the main topic during the daylong conference involving community college presidents to Arizona leaders from 16 tribes and nations.

Several leaders said education is the No. 1 priority on their reservations because they want their children to earn a college degree and return to improve their tribe.

Candida Yazzie, councilwoman of the Hualapai Tribe, said students need to return to their homes after earning higher degrees to strengthen tribal culture and history.

“We want to send this message: Go to school, learn, and come back and serve our community,” Yazzie said.

American Indian student enrollment has increased on Maricopa Community College campuses from 2,772 in 1999 to 3,130 in 2008.

Most American Indian students at those campuses were female (60 percent) and enrolled part-time (62 percent) in 2008.

Tribal leaders said they are trying to develop business and investment plans for the reservations as well as taking advantage of the public and private resources available to them.

Jacob Moore, president of the Arizona State Board of Education and with the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community, said the tribes now are in a position to raise money for many of their educational issues.

“It’s about the tribes coming together with the educational community to address these mounting needs.”

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