Most tribal colleges in N.D., Minn. have low graduation rates

 

By: Ryan Johnson, Forum News Service

  • Lucas Bratvold and his wife Veronica Kingbird
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Lucas Bratvold and his wife Veronica Kingbird stand outside the Leech Lake Tribal College on Sunday morning. The two graduates of the college will continue their education by attending the University of Minnesota Duluth this fall. MONTE DRAPER | BEMIDJI PIONEER
  • Tribal college graduation rates

CASS LAKE, Minn. – Seventy-one full-time students started at Leech Lake Tribal College in pursuit of a two-year degree in 2007.

Three years later, just 16 had earned a degree – giving the school a graduation rate of 22.5 percent, far below the 42.1 percent of students who graduated in the same time from Wahpeton’s North Dakota State College of Science.

But alumnus Lucas Bratvold, who graduated in May with an associate of arts degree after two years, said the college can’t force people to finish. He said it should instead be judged on the basis of what its graduates are doing now, whether it’s working for NASA or founding an Ojibwe language school.

“That’s where the success is, because maybe some people do drop out, but the ones who stick with it are doing great things,” he said. “Maybe even those people that dropped out are doing great at something else.”

Challenges

Leech Lake Tribal College’s rate is “obviously way too low,” and it also has a “terrible” retention rate, said President Don Day. But he said that’s not unique to his school, and federal data show it has the second-highest graduation rate of the eight tribal colleges in Minnesota and North Dakota.

No data was available for Red Lake Nation College, a satellite college of Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College located in Red Lake, Minn.

“You’ll find this all across the country,” Day said. “If you ever go and talk to tribal college presidents or retention people at the 37 tribal colleges, one of their highest issues will be the retention and graduation rates.”

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