Nationwide, tribal college and university leaders are concerned about how automatic federal budget cuts will affect their cash-strapped schools.
But officials at Oklahoma's tribal institutions expect the impact of the federal cuts to be minimal.
Carrie Billy, president of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, said the cuts, commonly known as budget sequestration, could have dire consequences for American Indian tribal colleges, which already are operating on lean budgets.
Nationwide, Billy said, tribal colleges are operating on funding that is 30 to 50 percent lower than they need. Most tribal colleges rely heavily on federal dollars, she said, with up to half their funding coming from federal grants. When federal funds are cut further, critical services are put in jeopardy, she said.
“There's no fat to trim,” she said.
The role of tribal colleges is different from other colleges and universities, Billy said, as they generally offer GED preparatory courses in addition to degree programs. Tribal colleges often operate the only public library on American Indian reservations, she said.
Tribal colleges are key to economic development efforts on reservations, she said. In areas often plagued by unemployment and poverty, the colleges offer a path for students to make themselves more marketable.
“We need to get those people into the pipeline. They need to get GEDs and have work training programs available to them,” she said. “Particularly for the reservation-based Indians, there's really no place else for them to go.”