The North Dakota Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday that provides workforce development grant money to state tribal colleges.
Under Senate Bill 2218, $5 million in grants would be divided among all of the tribally controlled community colleges in the state. The bill now goes to the House for consideration.
The grant program would will be administered by the Division of Workforce Development within the North Dakota Department of Commerce.
“This is one, fundamental way that Native Americans will have to partake in the workforce opportunities emerging from the growing energy economy in the region.” United Tribes Technical College President David Gipp said in an email.
The purpose of the grants is to help tribal college students start new businesses in the state or create degree programs that qualify students for in-demand jobs.
Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College, said unemployment is a major issue on North Dakota reservations and many tribal members find it hard to leave the reservation for employment.
“Family is pretty strong on the reservation,” he said.
Davis said if tribal members had more support, they would be more likely to stay in an off- reservation job.
Last fall, the college started a job placement program for its students. With the grant money, Davis said, the college could hire more people to help with the placement program.
“This bill itself is going to help a lot of our people,” he said.
Under the bill, grants can be used for a wide variety of things including program development, instruction, administrative expenses, boarding costs, transportation, day care, construction projects and scholarships for students.
Laurel Vermillion, president of Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates, said the grant money could increase the college’s training programs, recruitment and job placement. She said the college is considering a crew concept of job placement in which graduates will be sent to a workplace together to share transportation, housing and create a familial unit.
The bill would also create a reporting requirement for the grants. Colleges would have to report to the Commerce Department on how the funds were spent, the number of students helped, graduation rates, types of jobs training programs, job placement rate, the rate of students who pursue further degrees and the number of jobs and businesses created.