Federal grant awards offer opportunities to tribal colleges

WASHINGTON - Thanks to grant awards from the U.S. Department of Education, nine tribal colleges can finish existing projects or start new ones that will ultimately enhance the learning experience.

The grant awards, totaling nearly $12 million, fall under Title III of the Higher Education Act. They are awarded to tribal colleges that are in the process of developing and expanding to better serve students' needs.

''Tribal colleges and universities provide thousands of students the education foundation they need to be successful in the workforce and in life,'' U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings said in a press release. ''They also perform a valuable service by helping to preserve the languages and rich cultural traditions of American Indians.''

On the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, Oglala Lakota College received $1.6 million in grant money to build a 12-room dormitory. OLC President Thomas Shortbull said the dorms will be designed to accommodate single women with children.

''The majority of our student body are single women with children,'' he said. ''As far as dorms are concerned, these are rather large.''

The first dormitory was built in the Pine Ridge district. Shortbull said that he would like to see one dormitory for each one of the nine districts on the reservation. ''On our reservation, we are completely decentralized.''

Keshena College, located on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Wisconsin, received just under $1 million in grant money. The funds are earmarked for building renovation projects that are designed to better meet student and community members' needs, said President Verna Fowler.

One of the primary goals is to create an easy-access computer lab so tribal members can learn the Menominee language. Fowler said the college will also expand healthy living programs, with a focus on exercise programs and diabetes prevention education for both students and community members.

Currently, about 600 students are enrolled at the college. The college opened its doors in 1998, and Fowler said they have been working on expansion projects ever since due to increasing enrollment.

''I am just grateful that the most underserved people now have the opportunity for growth,'' she said. ''It's exciting.''

Chief Dull Knife College, located in Lame Deer on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation in Montana, received a $450,000 grant. The funds will go toward part of the construction of a public library/administration building. President Richard Littlebear said the total cost of the project should come to $6.5 million by the time the building is completed in 2008.

He also said that the new building will meet a few of the environmentally friendly ''green'' building standards and incorporate elements of the Cheyenne culture in the architecture. More than 300 students are currently enrolled in the school. ''I am sure with the completion of the building we will see an increase in enrollment,'' he said.

Also in Montana, Crow Agency Little Big Horn College received nearly $2 million.

As for the remaining colleges, Crownpoint Navajo Technical College in New Mexico was awarded $475,000, and Santa Fe Institute of American Indian Arts received nearly $1.5 million.

In North Dakota, three colleges received the grant awards - Turtle Mountain Community College, $2.1 million; United Tribes Technical College, $1.9 million; and Fort Berthold Community College, $1.6 million.