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Title III Grant Helps Expand Distance Education In Indian Country


A grant from the U. S. Department of Education will enhance the distance education programs at United Tribes Technical College.

A five-year, $2.4 million award under the department’s Title III, Strengthening Developing Institutions Program for Tribal Colleges and Universities, has helped UTTC create a new Center for Educational Outreach devoted to expanding access to postsecondary education.

“This provides the resources to expand our assessment of higher education pathways for American Indian people not served by tribal colleges and universities,” said Dr. Phil Baird (Sicangu Lakota), vice president of Academic, Career and Technical Education. “We presently have five online degree programs available. Depending on interest and demand, we’re preparing to develop additional distance education programming after we know how Indian communities want to be connected with technology.”

UTTC is the nation’s only tribal college accredited with online degree programs. The new center will become part of the college’s Distance and Continuing Education Division. Dr. Leah Woodke, the division’s chairperson, and webmaster David Taylor, created the college’s own learning management system (LMS) that is similar to education technology platforms such as Web-CT and Blackboard.

“Our LMS – nicknamed INDigiLearn – has the capability to provide student support services along with effective online instruction,” said Woodke, who will serve as the Title III project director. “We’ve been working in this area for some time and now we can begin to advance things further, like assessing the technology patterns of Indian students not served by TCUs.”

The Title III grant will support a part-time field outreach coordinator, Dr. Jen Janecek -Hartman, who is the current director of UTTC Continuing Education and STEM programs, and an LMS support technician, David Taylor.

Online degree programs will initially be expanded with adjunct faculty who are familiar with UTTC’s LMS and have taught coursework in teacher education, general education, health information, and injury prevention.

The college will also develop creative technology methods such as game simulations to attract and educate the next generation of tribal college students – the “Digital Natives who are Native.”

In the future, the college will expand online degree offerings in the areas of criminal justice, business management, and community health along with specialized web-based training.

“We’re grateful that the Department of Education recognized the value of our work in the area of increasing access to postsecondary education,” said Baird. “This kind of outreach is directly in line with their goals.”

Operational funding for the college itself has not fared as well elsewhere in the executive branch. The Bush Administration has attempted to eliminate UTTC’s BIA education funding for the past six years. Each year Congress has restored it.

“We continue to demonstrate our commitment to the workforce and educational needs of Indian Country,” Baird said. “That’s why the college has been around for nearly 40 years. It’s the commitment, creativity and energy of many dedicated people here.”

The Title III grant took effect with the start of the new federal fiscal year, thus launching UTTC’s Center for Educational Outreach on October 1.

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