Leech Lake Tribal College in north central Minnesota has a new president, and she is dedicated to helping the college grow, prosper and continue to provide an accessible, affordable education to a predominantly Native American student body wherever they are in their lives and careers.
Dr. Ginny Carney came to the college in 2001 as a faculty member. She served as chair of the Arts and Humanities Department, associate vice president of academics and vice president of academic and student affairs before becoming interim president in December 2008.
“Serving as president of Leech Lake Tribal College is both an honor and an awesome responsibility,” Carney said. “I look forward to working with each of our constituent groups to uphold the high academic standards and Anishinaabe values upon which this college has been built.”
LLTC is a public two-year institution offering Associate in Arts and Associate in Applied Science degrees, one- and two-year diploma programs in carpentry and electrical, and a Child Development Associate certification program. Degree programs include Indigenous Leadership, Liberal Education, Business Management, Early Childhood Education, Law Enforcement, Natural Science and Liberal Education with a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math emphasis.
When she was young Carney never saw herself as a college president, or even as a college graduate. “Born and raised in the hills of East Tennessee, I am of mixed Cherokee, Scot/Irish and German heritage. Neither of my parents had a high school education, and we were very poor, so college did not seem a viable option for me. By working two jobs – as a maid for affluent families, and as a hospital nursing assistant – however, I managed to complete two years of college before getting married at age 22.”
Finishing a degree while managing a demanding family life took commitment. “Over the next 30 years, my husband and I parented a total of 23 children (three biological, 16 foster, and four adopted), and the education I so desperately wanted had to be claimed incrementally: a Bachelor of Arts degree in English (Temple University, Tennessee) in 1969, an Associate’s degree in Nursing (Cleveland State Community College) in 1978, a Master’s in English (University of Alaska, Anchorage) in 1990, and a Ph.D. in English (University of Kentucky) in 2000.”
LLTC has an enrollment of about 260 students, and 90 percent are Native Americans from the Leech Lake Band of Ojbwe and 20 other U.S. and Canadian tribal nations. Fewer than half of the students are between the ages of 18 and 24 – the traditional years for getting a college education. Many of the remaining 50 percent are parents and have careers, a challenge Carney understands.
“I am finding that each chapter of my life has prepared me for the position in which I now find myself. For example, the obstacles I have encountered in my life-long pursuit of learning – poverty, first-generation college student, housing and transportation problems, and arduous family responsibilities – are the same obstacles faced by a majority of the students who enroll at Leech Lake Tribal College today.”
The college was founded in 1990 by a resolution of the Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe. In 2003, it was incorporated as a separate nonprofit entity. In 2006, the college won full accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
“During much of its 19-year history, LLTC has experienced financial difficulties, substandard classroom and office space, high staff turnover, and appalling student attrition rates; however, a strong nucleus of employees, students and community members have refused to give up, and today, we enjoy a new campus, qualified faculty and staff members, a 78 percent increase in student enrollment, and full accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission,” Carney said.
The college and its new president are fully committed to passing on Anishinaabe values, which the staff and administration practice themselves. Those values are humility, truth, courage, honesty, respect, love and wisdom.
“My immediate goal as president is to build upon the work that has been begun by previous leaders at LLTC – enhancing our academic standards, preserving an emphasis on Anishinaabe culture and values, and maintaining the college’s accreditation status,” Carney said. “I am keenly aware, however, that this work cannot be accomplished without teamwork, commitment, and a strong vision for the future of our students and the Leech Lake community, and I am deeply grateful for the support of each of our constituents.”
The college receives its base funding from the BIA under the authority of the Tribally Controlled Community College Assistance Act. The Leech Lake Band of Ojibwe provides 11 percent of the college’s funding.