Haskell Indian Nations University, the only four-year Bureau of Indian Affairs educational institution, offers tuition-free education to members of federally recognized tribes.
Haskell Indian Nations University has changed much in recent years, but officials don't want anyone to forget its history.
"It's been here a long, long time," interim president Karen Swisher said.
The 115-year-old institution is renovating residence halls, establishing four-year degree programs and dealing with growing enrollment.
Last fall, 898 students at the university. This year officials expect to enroll 1,050 from more than 140 tribes and 38 states. The newly renovated Osceola-Keokuk will open and work continues on Winona hall. The university's newest four-year degree, environmental science, is being offered.
"We're growing and evolving and changing," Swisher said.
With so much to look forward to in the school's future, Swisher wants people to know about Haskell's history and its purpose.
"The history is important," she said.
Haskell opened in 1884, offering five grades of study. Twenty-four students were enrolled. Since then, Haskell has been a high school, a junior college and now a four-year institute that offers four bachelor's degrees.
The BIA's Office of Indian Educational Programs oversees Haskell's operations from Washington, D.C. The Haskell president answers to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and Haskell's board of regents serves only in an advisory capacity.
"It is very much a challenge to operate a university within an institution not designed for that," Swisher said of the BIA.
As a BIA school, the university provides tuition-free education to federally recognized tribal members. That educational opportunity is part of treaty and trust obligations the government holds.
Haskell is the only BIA school that offers four-year degrees. Most are high schools or elementary schools. Haskell started as a vocational school. It evolved into a junior college by 1963 and became a university in 1995, when it began offering an elementary teacher education degree. American Indian studies and business administration were added in 1998, and environmental science began enrolling this fall.
Another step the university has made is formalizing cooperation with Kansas University, 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, is being 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."
Looking to the future, Swisher expects the university to add more four-year programs, but not until 2005 or 2006.
"We'll be adding," she said. "But we've got to get these firmly in place first."
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