Northwest Indian College thrives; New campus, new growth for regional school

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As 70 students prepared to receive their diplomas at Northwest Indian
College June 17, community relations director Fred Dorr said of the
college: "It's only going to get broader."

Dorr's statement was prophetic. In fact, while other tribal colleges face
various challenges - D-Q University in Davis, Calif., lost its
accreditation earlier this year - Northwest Indian College is thriving.

The same day as graduation, the college's fourth annual benefit golf
tournament raised $25,000 - $5,000 above goal - for the college's sports
program. The college currently offers basketball and Softball. Athletic
Director Jamie Sluys is recruiting a volleyball team and wants to add
archery, bowling, cross country, golf and lacrosse.

A week later, the college learned it had been awarded more than $980,000 by
the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for its Community Access to
Technology program. The award will help fund the expansion of
distance-learning programs on three extension campuses.

That same week, the college also received funding for an Executive
Development program in the casino and hospitality management fields.

On Aug. 25, college President Cheryl Crazy Bull received an honorary
doctorate from Sinte Gleska University in Rosebud, S.D.; she was formerly
Sinte Gleska's vice president. She is also president of the American Indian
Higher Education Consortium, which supports the work of tribal colleges.

On Sept. 28, Northwest Indian College broke ground on its new $5.6 million
campus, with the intent of going to four years. "I'm anxious to get started
building, if I have to shovel it myself," Crazy Bull said.

In an earlier interview, Frances Jules told of how the school helped her
complete her degree. It wasn't an easy task with three children at home and
an Army husband in Iraq.

"They cater to you to get you through," Jules said of the college, which
let her take her 4-year-old daughter, Ariah, to classes. "They gave me the
opportunity to be with my children and bring them to classes in order to
keep me going." Jules now plans to study business law or economic law at
Western Washington University in nearby Bellingham.

Funding sources include the Lummi Indian Nation, which gave $1 million; the
American Indian College Fund; and federal loans.

In addition, $1.3 million is allocated for the construction of a college
building on the Swinomish Indian Reservation, about 30 miles south of
Lummi.

Twenty-nine tribal communities provide space for extension campuses, or
places where students can take classes locally. Swinomish will be the first
extension campus to get a college building. Construction is expected to
begin in spring, Crazy Bull said. Some $900,000 of the money allocated for
construction came from a federal grant.

That's quite a story for a small college that evolved from an aquaculture
school founded in 1979 to an accredited college offering six types of
two-year degrees and several certificate programs.

What does Crazy Bull attribute for Northwest Indian College success?

* Staff members: "The staff at Northwest Indian College make a lot of
sacrifices," she said during a call from the Salt Lake City airport while
en route to get her doctorate. "Their salaries are 30 to 40 percent lower
than their counterparts at other colleges. But they are dedicated to our
vision and they still stay and work there."

The college has about 100 staff members, she said.

* Students: "Our students overcome incredible obstacles. They are one of
the reasons we do real well." The college accommodates 800 to 1,000
students, one quarter of which are in certificate programs and workshops.

* Community: Crazy Bull said the college is meeting the community's needs
better because of an 18-month strategic planning process, in which the
community participated.

* "If you strive to connect with the population you serve and you're good
stewards of peoples' resources, you're bound to have success," she said.

* Financial management: "We have more grants coming because people like to
give to success. There is more private fund-raising. We manage our money by
putting it where we have the best return - 'Does this opportunity fit?' We
try to invest from that perspective."

Dorr credits the leadership of Crazy Bull, who joined the college in April
2003.

"Her leadership has really turned it around. Financially we're in a better
place simply because we're coordinating our grant writing, working with the
Lummi Indian Business Council to not double up on the same money. And
there's a better vision that everyone understands.

"Everything is transparent. Not to make a comment about the previous
leadership, but under Cheryl's guidance, everyone understands their jobs
and roles better. And we're responding to the needs of the community
better."

Northwest Indian College also has geography on its side. It is one of 35
tribal colleges in 13 states, but the only one in the Pacific Northwest.

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