FARMINGTON — New Mexico tribal colleges are vying for funds that would support dual-credit programs for high-school students in the state.
While other colleges in New Mexico have state-funded dual-credit programs, tribal colleges have been excluded and have been funding their own dual-credit programs.
Dual-credit classes are offered in a variety of subjects and the credits apply to high school and college. They are seen as beneficial because they provide a way for students from low-income families to experience college life, which can open up new possibilities.
Though the tribal colleges have offered dual-credit classes to both American Indian and non-American Indian students, their establishment by the tribes sets them apart from other colleges as far as the law that allocates funding for the programs.
"That's just part of an excuse," said W. Anthony Major, Jr., Navajo Technical College chief financial officer.
The state needs to better address education funding, which this year may get a boost since Gov. Susana Martinez proposed a 4-percent budget increase for state programs and public education, Major said.
Whether tribal colleges will get a piece of the pie has yet to be seen.
"We continue to work with institutions which adhere to all dual-credit guidelines and support our students," said Larry Behrens, spokesman for the New Mexico Public Education Department, in an email Friday. "There is a fund set up to reimburse tribal institutions for dual-credit programs, but as of yet the legislature has not allocated dollars for the fund."
Still, the tribal colleges want to play a role in the dual-credit program, as it has become increasingly important in recent years.
Since 2009, the state has required all high-school students to graduate with at least one dual-credit class.
"It gives the students the incentive and the goal of going to college," said Maggie George, president of Diné College, which is based in Tsaile, Ariz., but also has campuses in New Mexico.
While the incentive is important for students statewide, it is especially significant for American Indian students, many of whom come from low-income families with limited education.
While about one-quarter of the general post-secondary student population acquires a bachelor's degree, only about one-twentieth of the American Indian student population acquires a bachelor's degree, according to Elmer Guy, president of the Navajo Technical College in Crownpoint.
For many of these students, the most affordable options are tribal colleges, which also are closer to their homes and more accommodating when it comes to maintaining a sense of American Indian culture in their education.
Of the four tribal colleges in New Mexico, however, one has opted not to have a program to save money, and two others have had to pay for the programs. Only Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, which is federally funded, has been able to get reimbursements.
Both Navajo Technical College and the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe have spent about $200,000 annually to support their programs, which make more than 1,000 credits available to several hundred students each year.
Diné College, on the other hand, only started offering courses this year because it watched fellow tribal colleges figure out ways to allocate precious education dollars to support their programs.
Because Diné College cannot afford the same hit to its budget, the college is only going to offer one course for the time being.
"We've been shy," said George, noting that the college wants to partner with school districts, such as Central Consolidated School District, and offer more courses in the future.
It will not be able to do so, though, without the state's support.
The state legislature passed a bill last year that theoretically supported the tribal colleges' request for funding, but it never appropriated any funding. Without money, the action had no effect.
"We would like to expand the program, double it, but we don't get reimbursed. This isn't fair," said Robert Martin, president of the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Together, the presidents of the three colleges Diné, Navajo Technical, and Institute of American Indian Arts are advocating for the Legislature's approval of funds for each college to offer a sizeable dual-credit program.
Ideally, they are hoping for between $300,000 and $500,000 to support their programs.
"They need to put their money where their mouth is," George said.