The Cobell Board of Trustees has just turned over administration of the Cobell Education Scholarship Program to Indigenous Education, Inc. The scholarship program was established as part of the 2009 settlement of a class action lawsuit brought by Elouise Cobell, Blackfeet Tribe, against the federal government alleging mismanagement of American Indian trust funds. The scholarship program is expected have as much as $60 million in the bank when it is fully funded.
Melvin Monette, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, is president and executive director of Indigenous Education, Inc., and brings to the organization extensive experience in administering AIAN scholarship programs, including five years as director of scholarship and programs at the American Indian Graduate Center. Monette brought ICTMN up to date on what is happening with the Cobell Scholarship Program.
Indigenous Education, Inc. was founded specifically to administer the Cobell Scholarship Program in the interests of reducing administration costs by 50 percent and using the savings to fund additional scholarships. How will administration costs be lower?
We’re new, we’re smaller, and we’re specifically concentrating on one scholarship program, which reduces the cost.
How many scholarships have been awarded so far?
We just completed funding for summer school 2016, and we made 140 offers. We make offers to students and they have until June 1 to accept or decline them. For summer school we spent a little over $350,000. The scholarships vary by level and need so we don’t have a standard award amount. We try to fund the individual [based on his needs].
Why would someone decline an offer?
They may have thought they were going to summer school and chose not to, they may not be attending full time, they may have received other funds, because our funds cannot exceed their cost of attendance, or for a variety of other reasons.
When will the second round of scholarships be available?
In February we opened applications for fall 2016 to spring 2017. That closes June 1. Currently we have 1,700 active applications for that pool, but we’ve had over 3,500 people visit our website to make inquiries or to create a profile. For the 2016-2017 academic year we will be awarding $2 million, with an anticipated additional amount for summer.
Does the money given out for scholarships come from the interest earned on the $45 million now in the account, or does it use both the interest and some of the capital?
It’s interest and capital. The Cobell Board of Trustees makes a decision each year prior to awards on how much will be available. The intent is to have the corpus be as perpetual as possible. We say perpetual, but like any other foundation, perpetual is only as long as the money lasts. The intention is to get as close to that $60 million in the corpus as possible and from then on spend only interest. But Indigenous Education doesn’t make those determinations; they are made by the Cobell Board of Trustees.
What percentage of the available funding goes for administration?
The administrative dollars are a separate line item, so we get that separate from the $2 million or $2.5 million each year for scholars. When I say scholarship dollars, that is all available scholarship dollars. The administration costs are based on how much is in the fund and on our recommendations of what we believe we’ll need for each quarter. We may ask for less than what is available if we don’t see that we need more than that so we can keep more money in the scholarship account. We received our first quarterly payment when we opened and we’ll receive our second quarterly payment in July.
Do you want to tell me what the first quarterly payment was?
What are some of the criteria for receiving a Cobell Scholarship?
In our first few years, we are accepting applications from anyone interested in applying. We want to a) determine what the full applicant pool in Indian country looks like, but b) we don’t want to make decisions about who we’re going to fund until we have a complete applicant pool. We do know that students need to be attending non-profit public and private institutions. That is a mandate. We also know that the institution needs to be accredited nationally, regionally and within their industry. So those are two things that we look at very specifically.
Who may apply?
We accept applications from enrolled members of U.S. federally-recognized tribes. [So far 251 tribes are represented in the applicant pool.] We also look at individuals who are descendants of enrolled members of their tribe. We have not funded descendants for the summer, but we want to look at what that need is in Indian country. We may make recommendations to the Cobell Board of Trustees to fund descendants down the road based on the data we collect over the next couple of years.
How do you identify descendants? Is there a criterion for how far in terms of generations the descendent would have to be from the enrolled member in order to qualify?
We have a form that applicants submit to the tribe with which they are affiliated and the enrollment officer tells us if they are an enrolled member or a descendent. We don’t have criteria about who is and who is not a descendant. We are collecting that information so we can build a database either for ourselves or for other scholarship organizations who may want to know. Our intention is to determine a need in Indian country that we haven’t been able to determine as an industry until this point.
What else do you want people to know about the program?
Our intention is to build programs based on student requests. We have for the summer offers collected information from students about how they want us to engage with them and what their needs are. We may provide those to institutions or we may build our own programs around those responses, but it’s important for us to know what students want from their scholarship providers and from their educational experience and work to provide that.
Bridget Ann Neconie, Pueblo of Acoma, is Indigenous Education’s director of scholarships. Cara Thunder, Menominee Indian Tribe of Wisconsin, is the director of student engagement. Trustees of Indigenous Education are Kelly Fayard, Poarch Band of Creek Indians, an assistant dean at Yale College and the director of the Native American Cultural Center at Yale University; Karen Francis-Begay, Navajo Nation, an assistant vice president for tribal relations and the former director for Native American Student Affairs at the University of Arizona; and Monette.