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North Dakota Tribal Colleges Racing to Keep Up With State’s Job Boom

BISMARCK, N.D. — Four North Dakota tribal colleges will use state grants to develop and enhance programs that meet the state’s employment needs in high-demand areas.

The Legislature set aside $5 million earlier this year to be distributed to tribal colleges to train students in areas such as oilfield operations, commercial driving and construction.

“We’re really training for North Dakota occupations,” Beth Zander of the state Department of Commerce told The Forum.

The four colleges are getting grants totaling $3.5 million. Grants of $1 million are going to Turtle Mountain Community College in Belcourt, United Tribes Technical College in Bismarck and Sitting Bull College in Fort Yates. Cankdeska Cikana Community College in Fort Totten is getting about $500,000.

Cynthia Lindquist, president of Cankdeska Cikana, said the tribal colleges will have to show what they can do to train people and put them to work before the Legislature meets again in 18 months.

Lindquist was instrumental in getting the grants approved by the Legislature. A few years ago when the state’s oil boom was just starting, she mentioned the idea to a state legislator.

“The state is realizing some significant riches. Why not help out some of the most disadvantaged people?” she said.

Lindquist said Cankdeska Cikana Community College will use its grant to add faculty members in construction trades and expand its programs in commercial drivers’ licenses and heavy equipment education.

United Tribes Technical College will boost its medical coding program.

Turtle Mountain Community College will add to its electrical program and commercial drivers’ training before launching an oilfield operations curriculum.

Jim Davis, president of Turtle Mountain Community College, said tribal colleges are flexible and able to design programs more quickly than other higher education institutions.

A big part of the colleges’ use of the grants will involve job placement to help link students with employers. Students also will be taught what to expect when they enter the workforce so they can be more productive or get hired over someone with no experience.

Koreen Ressler, vice president of academics at Sitting Bull College, said Fort Yates is removed from the oil and natural gas activity, so people don’t know what to expect when they try to find a job in the oilfields.

“We’re just trying to give them the additional resources and prepare them when they go up there,” Ressler said.

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