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Wendy Reuer, Published March 06 2013

Tribal colleges aim for workforce development grant

FARGO – The North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges is hoping the state House will move forward with a $5 million grant to improve workforce development programs among the five schools.

The Senate unanimously approved Senate Bill 2218 that would use money from the state Department of Commerce to fund programs designed by each of the tribal colleges.

“This is unprecedented legislation,” Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College, said.

Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana Community College, said workforce development is a priority for tribal members, as unemployment rates on North Dakota reservations are 65 percent, compared to statewide unemployment of 3.5 percent.

Each campus – Cankdeska Cikana Community College, Turtle Mountain Community College, Fort Berthold Community College, Sitting Bull College and United Tribes Technical College – designed their own programs based on student needs, Davis said.

Lindquist said the grant would be used on her campus for many programs, including the creation of a business incubator to help would-be entrepreneurs.

Davis said up to 200 of the 650 students at his school could benefit directly from workforce development.

While the grants would help students, Lindquist said improving the tribal workforce development would benefit the entire state. About 10 percent of students attending the state’s tribal colleges aren’t Native American, she said.

According to a study by the North Dakota Association of Tribal Colleges, the 43,000 Native Americans in the state generated about $510 million in income. They pay about $3.1 million, or $178 per person, in annual income tax to the state. Lindquist said it is a common myth that Native Americans do not pay taxes, but income taxes combined with sales tax, motor vehicle and fuel taxes and property taxes amount to about $57.7 million annually in tax contributions, the study showed.

College leaders said the workforce development programs will allow for better-trained students to find higher-paid jobs that help contribute even more to those numbers.

Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College, said as many as 90 percent of tribal college graduates remain in North Dakota.

Sisseton Wahpeton College, a member of the Tribal College Association, would not be awarded grant money because it is based in Sisseton, S.D.

The bill will be heard by a House subcommittee on Tuesday before it moves on to the appropriations committee and eventually to a floor vote sometime in the next two weeks.

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Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530