An update on programs, relationships and for-profit policy

The Southern Ute Education Department has been developing summer enrichment programs and working to build a stronger relationship with the Ignacio School District.

Research shows that summer enrichment programs promote education success during the regular academic year. Simply by providing an engaging opportunity for students in the summer, they’ve proven to help students retain information from the previous academic year and better prepare them for the next academic year.

In the past three years, the Education Department and the Ignacio School District have improved their working relationship. As a result, we had 100 percent of Southern Ute students graduate high school.

We provide tutoring for students in Kindergarten through eighth grade at the Education Center and in grades nine through 12 at the Ignacio High School. This is where the majority of our students attend public school; however, we are working with other local school districts to continue to make them aware of our services.

We are happy to announce new or modified programs for K-12 students. In November 2012, we began the planning stages with Western State University to provide our third Explore Colorado weeklong camp, filled with science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities. It’s for students in the seventh through 12th grades and will take place July 22-26.

We also will provide STEM for the younger students (K-6) through our Summer Youth In Action. Since this is a younger age group, we develop STEM programs with local groups, such as the Durango Discovery Museum, the Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, the James Ranch and our Education Department teachers, just to name a few.

Department Director La Titia Taylor and Assistant Executive Officer Amy Barry have met with Los Alamos National Laboratory representatives and have re-established our relationship with the lab. This summer, we will start field trips for the younger students. Internships are now available for high school seniors and college students.

Since Los Alamos is a national laboratory, we will have connections with other labs and will eventually take field trips and gain exposure to their STEM programs.

The second Tri-Ute Leadership Conference will take place with collaboration between the three Ute tribes’ education departments. The Southern Ute Education Department hosted the first conference at Fort Lewis College. On Aug. 4-7, the Northern Ute Tribe will host at Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.

This conference offers a wide range of workshops, from preparing students for the college process to social, emotional and cultural activities. Also, on Aug. 17 we are planning a parent conference at FLC with the Ute Mountain Ute, Ignacio, Durango and Cortez school districts, along with the Colorado Department of Education and Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Parents of American Indian students in Bayfield and the Southern Ute Indian Montessori Academy will be invited as well. We are hoping this conference will help parents understand the K-12 education process and how to better advocate for your children.

In April, we will have our annual Career Fair at the Sky Ute Casino Resort. More than 300 students will attend and view more than 50 business and college vendors. At this time, the Education Department will have tribal scholarship application packets and information on our Summer Youth Employment Program.

For the past three years, we have had at least 40 Southern Utes of ages 14 through 18 employed. Anyone over the age of 18 has other employment opportunities with the tribe. Under the Education Department’s Adult Occupational Training Program, we can employee tribal members 16 and older. Visit the Human Resources Department for other employment opportunities.

We are planning our second Leadership in Education trip. Last year, we took 15 students to Washington, D.C.; this year, we are looking at a local state capital, such as Denver or Santa Fe. With this program, students must commit to working hard in school and having good attendance. They also develop a service-learning project and help raise some of the funds for the trip. June 3-7 is when the trip will take place.

For the past three years, the tribe has combined the high school senior and college banquet. It is very important for our young tribal members to be honored and to witness older tribal members, who may be friends or family members, obtaining their higher education. This is a way to inspire our young tribal members to go and better their selves. The banquet will be in June.

In regards to the scholarship program: As the director and a fellow tribal member, I need to clarify and let the membership know that we have researched “for-profit” colleges and institutes for four years now and recommended that the Southern Ute Indian Tribal Council no longer fund scholarships to such schools for a variety of reasons.

We have researched this issue and find that these institutions are usually financially three times the amount of a not-for-profit institution. Most colleges will not transfer credits from for-profit schools. Businesses will hire an individual with a degree from a not-for-profit school before they hire from a for-profit school.

The federal government is concerned with the amount of education money it is awarding to students that attend for-profit institutions. For example: Take a student who goes to University of Colorado and applies for a Pell Grant or student loan for tuition for one term. For the same term at a for-profit institution, the government is giving the student three times the amount.

Essentially, three students from CU could be funded for every one student at a for-profit school like the University of Phoenix.

In 2011, the University of Phoenix received $4.3 billion of income from federal student aid, nearly eight times as much as the largest nonprofit recipient, Pennsylvania State University. We have several students that have experienced, at a for-profit college, receiving loans that they had no idea they received. The students didn’t want the loans, but somehow they were billed and forced to take them.

Our staff called the college on behalf of one student. We were transferred half a dozen times to try to talk to the right person. When we finally got a person, we asked them to produce documentation to show where the student signed for the loan. We were told “You are a third party entity and we will not talk to you.” We then recommended the student get a lawyer.

Our experience shows that they change tuition costs and give the students one cost and the department another. They make it difficult for students to be enrolled in 15 or more credits per term, which conflicts with the tribe’s policies. They have high employee turnover, so every year we and the student have to try to establish a relationship with a new employee.

All other institutes have academic advisors that we speak to. For-profit institutions typically have financial advisors. As director, I posed as a potential student — and I was going to be admitted, as long as I had a good credit score and some form of financial account they could access.

In addition, their recruiting practices are deceptive and mislead students. They prey on students that are eligible for Title V (financial aid minorities and people with low income). In December 2009, the University of Phoenix was fined $78.5 million for illegally paying recruiters for the number of students they enrolled and giving empty promises of employment and prestige.

Students are not being taught to multitask. At a not-for-profit institution, a full-time student will take four to six courses a week for five months. They are learning to think in a variety of ways and have to manage numerous courses at once.

A for-profit school will normally give one or two classes every five weeks. With this type of schedule, and the courses being online, the student has a lot of downtime.

This type of system also conflicts with our scholarship distribution schedule. Policy requires grades before the next term of payments can be made. Credits overlap terms, and students are upset when we hold a scholarship payment until proof of all credits is submitted with a transcript. It is difficult for the department and student to obtain an official transcript, because there is always a hold on students’ financial accounts because they forget we have a letter of credit or do not communicate with us.

Tribal policy states that we don’t pay for retakes or failed courses. When this happens to a student attending a for-profit college, they have to pay more than $1,000 for the retake — as opposed to not-for-profit colleges, in which the same course is roughly $300. In addition, their system pushes students’ graduation dates back up to five weeks for each failed course.

We spoke to the Northern Ute Tribe, and they will not fund for-profit institutions because of the costs and lack of quality.

As a Southern Ute, and being the director for 12 years, I know we are better and smarter people than what the for-profit institutions are offering us and the entire nation. Our members need to obtain a high-quality education so that our future employees, administrators and leaders can run our government and businesses with confidence and pride.

The Education Department has a web page that you can access from the tribe’s main website, or call us at 970-563-0237 for help.

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