Archive for Monday, August 2, 1999

HASKELL LOOKS TO THE FUTURE

August 2, 1999

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Haskell Indian Nations University is expecting enrollment to skyrocket in coming years, in part because of its fledgling degree programs.

The recent addition of four-year degree programs at Haskell Indian Nations University has fueled dramatic enrollment growth, officials say.

Last fall there were 898 students at the university. This year officials expect to enroll 1,050 from more than 140 tribes and 38 states.

Congress may still be deciding how much money Haskell will receive this year by the first day of classes Aug. 16.

"One of the ironies is that funding is based on historical numbers, not enrollment," said Administrative Officer Marv Buzzard.

This year a fourth degree program, more students and a pair of renovated residence halls will be the latest signs of change.

"We need to strengthen this institution in all that that means," said interim president Karen Swisher.

Swisher said 850 students will live on campus in the fall. Students in residence halls are required to work 40 hours a semester on campus. Many find jobs in Lawrence.

Over the past decade Haskell and Kansas University have formalized cooperation, said KU Provost David Shulenburger.

An exchange program allows students at each school to take classes at the other if they are not offered at the students' home institution.

This fall a new master's degree in indigenous nations studies, developed jointly, will be offered at KU. Eventually classes will be taught by professors at both universities.

"Haskell has been on a steady course of improvement over the last decade," Shulenburger said. "It has certainly made us richer as an institution to have them there."

Swisher credits former president Bob Martin with many of Haskell's improvements. He left July 1 for a teaching job at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

"Bob really made it easy for someone like me to step in until someone permanent is found," she said.

A search this spring for a new president failed. The position is being readvertised, she said.

The BIA's Office of Indian Educational Programs oversees Haskell's operations from Washington, D.C. The Haskell president answers to BIA, and Haskell's board of regents serves only in an advisory capacity. Haskell is the only four-year BIA school.

"It is very much a challenge to operate a university within an institution not designed for that," Swisher said of the BIA.

Another challenge of working with BIA is funding. Congress makes all the allocations for Haskell.

"It's always a challenge finding enough money to match the increasing enrollment," Swisher said.

In fiscal year 1999, Haskell received $10.6 million.

Because Haskell offers free tuition and room and board to students, it is difficult to compare costs with other universities, Buzzard said.

Currently Haskell is losing 35 to 40 percent of its students during their first semester. Another 12 to 15 percent quit during their second semester, said Benny Smith, counseling director.

Swisher said a retention plan is in the works. But there are various factors complicating retention efforts.

Haskell draws most of its students from smaller high schools and rural areas, Smith said. But increasingly young American Indian students are less aware of their native cultures. Full-blooded, native-speaking students were always the minority at Haskell. Now they are rarer still.

"That lack of student knowledge has created an interest (in culture) here on campus," Smith said.

There was little interest 20 years ago in sweat lodge sessions, meditation and other spiritual activities, Smith said. Now there is more.

Those at Haskell for many years -- first as students, now as employees -- call it an unknown town within a town.

"Ninety-five percent of Lawrence only knows where the stadium is," said Facilities Manager Virgil Allen.

A symbol of Lawrence community support for Haskell is the university sign on 23rd Street. It was built with donations.

Now another construction project, the South Lawrence Trafficway, may have weakened that earlier support, said Wiley Scott, who attended Haskell from 1955 to 1958, returning in 1972 to work.

"That sign was built with a lot of support from the city," said Scott, who solicited donations for the project. "Now we wouldn't get it."

Haskell officials and supporters oppose the trafficway being built on 31st Street, which skirts the campus to the south, and their opposition has thus far stopped the project from progressing.

-- Josh Funk's phone message number is 832-7222. His e-mail is jfunk@ljworld.com

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