New Beginning for Tribal Students Goes Live

By Julia Johnson

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has released its Request for Applications for the "New Beginning for Tribal Students" program. The program passed as part of the 2018 Farm Bill to support Native American education at land-grant colleges and universities. Congress appropriated $5 million to the program, the full authorized amount, in Fiscal Year 2020. Land-grant colleges and universities have until June 12th to apply for the program.

Since the Morrill Land-Grants Act passed in 1862, land-grant universities have provided Americans with the opportunity to learn, innovate, and excel in agriculture, science, engineering, and beyond. However, these opportunities are often not easily accessed by Native American students even though these institutions are built on lands their ancestors were unfairly removed from generations ago. The new USDA program New Beginning for Tribal Students, or New Beginnings, takes a step in the right direction by promoting opportunity and access to higher education for Native American students.

New Beginnings was passed as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The program authorizes USDA to match state funding for programs at land-grant universities and colleges that support Tribal students through tuition fees, recruiting, tutoring, counseling, or any service that would increase student retention and graduation. The $5 million per year authorization is capped at $500,000 per state.

The idea for the program stems from South Dakota State University’s Wokini Initiative. The initiative is funded through private donations and annual revenue from the University’s designated land-grant properties. Funds are used to offer programming and support to citizens of the nine tribal nations in South Dakota interested in pursuing an education at SDSU. Even before receiving USDA funds, the program has seen great success. According to Shana Harming, Director of Wokini & Tribal Relations, SDSU’s Wokini Scholars are seeing higher retention rates and a new American Indian Student Center has been developed. Through New Beginnings, SDSU has the opportunity to apply for USDA match grant funding to expand the Wokini Initiative’s mission and success even further.

“I’m very excited about the USDA New Beginnings for Tribal Students grant program,” Harming said. “This program will allow land-grant universities to provide specific support services for Tribal students that are unique to the needs of their student population. This additional funding is much needed to help foster the workforce development needs in tribal communities across the nation.”

NIFA published the Request For Applications on April 29th. Time is of the essence in ensuring that all $5 million is appropriated by October of this year. Interested land-grant colleges and universities can visit NIFA’s New Beginning for Tribal Students page to apply by June 12th.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Julia Johnson (jjohnson@ofwlaw.com).

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