Three TCUs Receive Their First Significant NSF-TCUP Awards

Bay Mills Community College, Red Lake Nation College and White Earth Tribal and Community College will use funding from the National Science Foundation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program to add new courses and build new degree programs.

By Paul Boyer

Red Lake Nation College in Minnesota will upgrade its program in Social and Behavioral Sciences with support from the NSF. Photo courtesy of RLNC.

Three tribally controlled colleges, all located in the Great Lakes region, recently received their first significant awards through the National Science Foundation’s Tribal Colleges and Universities Program.

Bay Mills Community College, Red Lake Nation College and White Earth Tribal and Community College are the latest institutions to receive awards of $500,000 or more.

The Tribal Colleges and Universities Program (TCUP) was created by the National Science Foundation in 2001 to strengthen STEM programs within tribal and eligible Native-serving colleges and universities. Thirty-five institutions are currently eligible for support. All but three have now received substantive funding through TCUP.

The recently announced awards, which range between $500,000 and $2.5 million, will support the development of new STEM courses and degree programs.

  • At Bay Mills Community College, located in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, a $500,000 award will allow the college to offer its first courses in biology and chemistry and also explore development of a bachelor of science in science degree.
  • White Earth Tribal and Community College’s $2.5 million award will be used to develop an associate of science degree in the natural sciences. New courses in physics and chemistry will also expand the Minnesota college’s STEM offerings.

While most established tribal colleges have received at least one TCUP award, those that have not are, in general, smaller, younger and still building their academic and grant-writing capacity. Securing a TCUP award is, therefore, rightly considered a milestone in an institution’s development.

This is certainly true for Red Lake Nation College, one of the nation’s youngest tribal colleges. According to Lane Azure, vice president for academic affairs, the college began in the early 2000s as an unaccredited institution offering one degree program, an AA in Liberal Studies. He credited President Dan King, who began his tenure in 2010, for starting the path toward accreditation in 2015, which it secured in 2021.

“Along with a brand new accreditation, the enrollment of the college went from just under 100 students to about 285 students,” Azure said, “so this grant couldn’t have come at a better time.” 

Azure said The $2.5 million award will allow the college to upgrade an existing AAS degree in Social and Behavioral Sciences, making it more experiential and responsive to the requirements of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education. Additionally, the college plans to develop and implement a Red Lake Nation College Institutional Review Board.

Like most tribal colleges, Red Lake focuses on programs that provide employment opportunities for graduates and address the immediate needs of the community.

“It’s the same old thing we’ve heard for years and years in Indian Country,” Azure said.  “We don’t have any managers, we don’t have any medical personnel, we don’t have any scientists in our communities.”

“What better way [to address this gap] than to build a program and grow our own?” he said.

Paul Boyer is editor of Native Science Report

Story published February 26, 2024

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