Last week in Ashwaubenon, members from almost a dozen tribal colleges and universities gathered for a consortium conference to discuss the future of education at Native American colleges.
Representatives from universities and colleges in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan and Nebraska came together as part of the Woodlands Tribal Colleges and Universities group to share experiences and focus on higher education. Close to 1,000 students participated in the event as well, which was held at the Radisson Hotel and Conference Center.
The College of the Menominee Nation, which was chartered by the Menominee tribe in 1993, has a main campus in Keshena and a branch in Ashwaubenon. According to the Northstar Economics Inc., research firm, the College of the Menominee Nation has a $37 million impact on the northern region of the state, and has generated more than 400 jobs. While that impact alone is extremely valuable to both Keshena and to Ashwaubenon, the mission to offer higher education to tribal and nontribal members is absolutely critical.
At a time when budgets are tight and the job market and economy are just coming off life support, investing in education and taking advantage of learning opportunities is the only way to move forward. Native American colleges offer a unique experience, which includes embracing the culture, history and traditions of the people who called this land home long before white settlers began to put down roots.
While some might question why these unique schools, some of which can be found in rather isolated places on reservations across the Midwest, were established in the first place, we think the approach makes perfect sense. Many Native American students who participated in last week's consortium described that they are comfortable attending a tribal college. While some students may be comfortable leaving a reservation to attend a college, university or technical school not affiliated with a tribe, the fact is thousands may not pursue their education if not for institutions like the College of the Menominee Nation.
There are 37 tribal-based community colleges in this country. Many campuses are located on reservations, where young people are trying to find a way to move forward while trying to maintain a sense of culture and tradition. These tribal colleges serve students of all ages and backgrounds. Approximately 600 students are enrolled in the College of the Menominee Nation. While the numbers might seem small compared to other universities, the impact a small school can have on the life of a young person trying to move ahead can be immense.
Tribal colleges offer a sense of community to students that might not be found at larger institutions located away from the reservation.
We applaud the students and educators who gathered in Ashwaubenon for last week's consortium, and we encourage those who support schools like the College of the Menominee Nation to keep the dream of higher education alive for students of all races and backgrounds.