Legislators updated on Diné College's progress

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Diné College President Charles "Monty" Roessel talks about initiatives the community college is developing at its campuses in New Mexico and Arizona during a presentation to the New Mexico Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee on Monday in Gadii'ahi

GADII'AHI — The president of Diné College gave an update about the college to members of the New Mexico Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee in a meeting on Monday at the Gadii'ahi-Tokoi Chapter house.

Charles "Monty" Roessel, president of the college, said the first tribal college in the United States is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

There are 1,535 students enrolled this fall at the college's campuses in New Mexico and Arizona.

Geraldine Garrity, the college's provost, said 317 students have declared to major in the Bachelor of Science and associate of arts degrees at the college.

With the number of degrees being offered, including eight bachelor's degrees, the college is focused on transition from a community college to becoming a four-year institution, Roessel said.

Members of the New Mexico Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee received information from Diné College officials about its 50th anniversary during a committee meeting on Monday in Gadii'ahi.

To get there, the college continues to address challenges, including the high number of students completing remedial classes.

Roessel said New Mexico high school graduates made up 24 percent of the student population in fall 2017.

Of that percentage, 84 percent were enrolled in remedial education courses, including those that address mathematics and English, he said.

Since these students are not college ready, the school must devote resources to get them ready, he said.

"We spend almost $2 million on remedial education. That's $2 million that we can't invest in classrooms. That's $2 million that we can't invest in new buildings," Roessel said.

Rather than spend time assigning blame, the college is building programs for students to introduce them to higher education, he said.

He added Shiprock High School, Crownpoint High School and Navajo Preparatory School are among those in New Mexico that have approached the college to develop partnerships that encourage and prepare students for higher education.

New Mexico state Rep. Sharon Clahchischilliage was among the members of the state Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee to comment about a report from Diné College officials on Monday.

The college operates a north and south campus in Shiprock, which carries the second highest number of students behind the main campus in Tsaile, Arizona.

There are 168 students who are enrolled in programs offered at the Shiprock campuses while 110 students use the campus to attend satellite television classes from Tsaile

Community members also use the amenities and services offered at the north and south campuses.

Roessel also commended the state lawmakers for supporting the college's initiative to construct a new mathematics and science center at the south campus in Shiprock.

State lawmakers approved $5 million for the project this year.

Roessel said the overall project is estimated to cost $6.3 million. College officials are working toward obtaining the remaining amount.

New Mexico Legislature's Indian Affairs Committee co-chair Georgene Louis, right, listens to a presentation by Diné College officials about student enrollment during a committee meeting on Monday in Gadii'ahi.

In the meantime, the college has funding for the building's design and engineering.

"This will help us as we move forward," he said, adding that one of the college's challenges is building programs that reflect the communities that house its campuses.

Other accomplishments mentioned by college officials is the college's research potential, including obtaining funding to study issues and address challenges on the Navajo Nation.

Last week the college received $429,000 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study the impact of uranium on livestock in Cove Chapter.

The college was provided $364,000 from the Bureau of Indian Education to develop a Navajo language program for students in kindergarten to 12th grade, as well as receiving $220,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help thin forestlands and research methods for keeping forest areas healthy on the Navajo Nation.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.