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Rural Development Support to Tribal Colleges Creates Quality of Life Improvements

Kate Bolz
Release Date

LINCOLN, Neb.– Little Priest Tribal College, serving the community of Winnebago, in Thurston County; and Nebraska Indian Community College, serving the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska, at the Macy Campus, the Santee Dakota Nation, at the Santee Campus, and the community in and around South Sioux City; are two of only 32 tribal colleges and universities nationwide. They share a similar mission: to provide safe, local, and affordable higher education for Native American and non-native students in Nebraska.

When speaking about their institutions, Manoj Patil, president, Little Priest Tribal College, and Dr. Michael Oltrogge, president, Nebraska Indian Community College, both recount their priorities of ensuring student success and staff satisfaction when faced with the need to improve infrastructure, safety, and equipment needs. Both colleges applied for and received federal grant money from USDA Rural Development, which they credit as being instrumental to their schools’ success. 

“We applied for two different types of funds, the Tribal College Initiative Grant and the Rural Business Development Grant, these were a lifeline for us,” said Patil, president, Little Priest Tribal College. 

The college has been granted $681,252 total to date and is expecting more in the near future.

Improvements to the college include a new bathroom on the main level of the college, floodlights for improved safety, increased parking capacity, pavement for the parking lot, and a new walk-up ramp to improve accessibility among other things.

Patil praised USDA and credited the agency with giving students and faculty hope. 

“Students are noticing the difference,” said Patil. “We are saving operational funds, thanks to these grants. This money gives us hope and allows us more to spend on students. All these reasons are adding to higher enrollment and higher satisfaction from employees.” 

Patil said he was able to buy a passenger van and two vehicles for staff to use on official business, which saves the school money over reimbursing employees for mileage. He also credits the USDA funds with saving the tribe’s priceless artifacts, which faced an uncertain future when the building they were housed in lost its heating and cooling system, which they were able to replace using the Rural Development grant funds. 

Little Priest Tribal College and Nebraska Indian Community College relayed similar challenges with the safety of their previously unpaved parking lots. Hosting community events at their campuses, tribal members would walk to events, only to be met with icy or mud-filled parking lots that either prevented them from getting to the venue or posed a fall hazard. Both schools used RD funds to pave and improve their primary parking areas. 

Nebraska Indian Community College has been awarded $1,097,046 in grants to date via a combination of Tribal College Initiative Grants and Rural Business Development Grants.

In addition to their paving projects, Nebraska Indian Community College was able to create an entrepreneur program, an aircraft pilot and flight instructor training, and a welding program to their courses of instruction. 

“I learned about the RD funds in 2004, and these funds were really able to help build the campus,” said Dr. Oltrogge.

Oltrogge went on to say his organization has built a learning research center, improved its auditorium, built a traditional Earth lodge, trained more than 150 certified nurses’ aides, and lowered tuition to $1 per credit, which wouldn’t have been possible without the RD grants. 

“The RD staff is always available to help us work through solutions and answer any questions we may have,” said Oltrogge. “We will continue to apply for these funds and are immensely grateful for this support. This institution really wouldn’t exist without these funds.”

USDA Rural Development supports tribal communities year-round with a number of programs specifically designed for Native American communities. Tribal College Initiative Grants are one of these programs, designed to make capital improvements to tribal educational facilities and help with the purchase of equipment for those institutions. Eligible community facilities projects include schools, education equipment, libraries, dorms, renovations, improvements, vehicles, major equipment, and cultural projects.

Rural Business Development Grants provide technical assistance and training for small rural businesses having fewer than 50 new workers and less than $1 million in gross revenue. Towns, communities, state agencies, authorities, nonprofit corporations, institutions of higher education, and federally recognized tribes, in rural areas with fewer than 50,000 residents are eligible to apply for these funds.

“These are really quality of life improvements, not just for the students and faculty at the colleges, but for the entire tribal community,” says Mary Sneckenberg, community programs specialist, USDA Rural Development Nebraska.

Sneckenberg recounts working with Nebraska Indian Community College, where tribal elders were confronted with the challenge of the unpaved parking areas. 

“Sometimes they were greeted with unimaginable mud. Other times, the lot would be frozen over. The lack of infrastructure really negatively impacted the entire tribe, and was a safety concern,” said Sneckenberg. “They were delighted when the paving was done, and I really enjoyed seeing how happy these improvements made the entire community. They were delightful to work with and I look forward to helping them again in the future.”

Under the Biden-Harris Administration, Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities, create jobs, and improve the quality of life for millions of Americans in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements, business development, housing, and community facilities such as schools, public safety, healthcare, and high-speed internet access in rural, tribal, and high-poverty areas. For national information, visit https://www.rd.usda.gov. If you’d like to subscribe to USDA Rural Development updates, visit our GovDelivery subscriber page.

To learn more about Rural Development in Nebraska, visit https://www.rd.usda.gov/ne

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