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Si Tanka Huron University offers Native scholars incentives

HURON, S.D. ? After a turbulent start, Si Tanka Huron University is moving forward with recruitment efforts and new programs for students in the fall.

The institution arose when Huron University, a private university, was purchased last year by Si Tanka College, a tribal college on the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation.

The region's first off-reservation tribally owned campus gained its accreditation for both campuses and is preparing to hire a new president, add new programs and aggressively recruit students to its campus.

University officials say they are hoping to recruit 100 Native American students for the fall term by offering them a waiver of the $25 application fee and a rare scholarship program that picks up expenses when other financial aid resources are exhausted. While Native American students are required to apply for a minimum of three financial aid programs, the Native Scholarship program will provide funding for all of the student's expenses even if they are not covered by the financial aid programs, said Robert Begay, director of cultural development.

Student sign-up days for financial aid were on April 29, 30 and May 1. The deadline for the Native American scholarship is June 1 for the first semester and Nov. 30 for the second semester.

The university has switched from a quarter system to a semester system. It has made changes in its nursing program, now a four-year BSN degree, and is adding equine and agricultural management programs. It will soon include an Indian Studies program.

Lynn Moller, the dean of business, said the university offers BS degrees in marketing and sports promotion, corporate and finance accounting and public administration.

The university's nursing program boasted a 100 percent success rate for students passing their national boards. University officials attributed the success rate to small classes and partnerships with clinical facilities offering state-of-the-art equipment.

Although nationally recognized economists and business leaders who spoke at a recent regional symposium pointed out that the rural economy is changing and the forecast for business growth is in areas other than agriculturally related fields, Moller said the newly added equine and agricultural management programs are needed.

Adding the equine program, he said, will allow students to seek management positions in horse businesses geared for recreation such as ranches catering to weekend riders and vacationers.

"People want professionals. The recreational horse industry is growing," he said.

The university is also planning to add a rodeo team.

"I'm very excited about that," Moller said.

Moller said other areas of agriculture allow for opportunities such as agricultural finance, processing and ethonal plants.

The university will be upgrading its computers this summer preparing for the fall and the two campuses will be networked.

However, Si Tanka Huron University is dealing with a challenge many other colleges and universities across the nation are facing ? students coming in with poor math and English skills.

Nearly 40 percent of the students entering the university will need some form of remedial math officials said. While the university already offers a remedial course in math, it will offer an even lower-level course to help students catch up.

Bringing greater diversity to the campus, a Native American Cultural Center is home to the campus Native American Club. The center serves as a gathering place with a display of Native artifacts, paintings and design, giving Native students a connection to their culture. It also serves as a place where an effort toward campus diversity starts, said Begay.

Continuing the commitment that was the philosophy of tribal colleges, Begay said, Si Tanka has focused on making the environment friendly for tribal students and the center offers them a place to relax and blend into their surroundings.

Every effort is being made to make the students feel comfortable and to assist them with higher learning, said Begay. "We're not going to say 'sink or swim'," he said. "We don't want to set the students up to fail. We want them to succeed."

Aggressive recruiting of tribal students is already underway.

"We are going to really concentrate on South Dakota with a big push for all tribes. We want to go nationwide. It is a big plus culturally for all of us," he said. "All we want to do is be part of the choice."

The university's board, which has been working on a series of financial problems since the two campuses merged, is winding up its selection of a new university president.

Interim Chancellor Brad Smith said the board has narrowed its search down to three candidates. Board members plan to select a president by April 30.

The administration went through a difficult transition as administrators hired and fired too fast for even the students keep up. Further pressures concerning finances surfaced as tribal officials discovered undisclosed debt and overspending by key administrators hired when the university changed hands. The composition of the board governing the campus has changed. One board now oversees its operations rather than a geographically split board, said Begay.

Smith said the university is academically stable since its accreditation was granted earlier this year, but finance officials are fully aware of the debt and will have to raise $2.25 million for its operating budget.

A bond issue proposal by the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe was considered as a funding source as was the negotiation with the SDA for a grant/loan proposal, but neither will become reality, he said.

"That's not going to happen," Smith said. "We're negotiating some alternatives, but I'm not comfortable revealing them."

Smith focused more on what the university had to offer Native students in the way of creating an environment of diversity.

"I think if we can make this thing happen, it will make a difference to a lot of people," he said.