Haskell Indian Nations University's board of regents met for the second time Thursday to discuss academics and operations at the university.
In the morning, the regents picked up a debate that began at the previous day's meeting over a proposal from Haskell to increase admissions standards.
With limited resources to teach remedial classes, Haskell President Venida Chenault said the university is "setting students up to fail" by accepting them without providing basic instruction for those who need it.
Along with trying to control the costs, the university has also been trying to raise its graduation rates, which in the past have been as low as 9 percent. Chenault said the dropout rate for first-year freshmen is 40 percent.
The proposal from administration would raise the minimum ACT score for admissions to 14 as well as raise other admissions criteria such as class ranking and GPA.
But some regents worried raising the admissions criteria would change the role of the university and exclude students whom Haskell has historically tried to serve, many of whom haven't received adequate college preparation from their K-12 schools.
"Who are we at Haskell? The ACT scores I'm looking at that are proposed — those students have other options," said Regent Elvira Largie. "I speak for the students for whom Haskell is their only opportunity" to attend college, Largie added.
The board eventually declined to act on the proposal and tabled the matter for a later meeting.
Throughout the day the regents heard reports from several university departments, including Haskell's chief financial officer, Michael Lewis. Budget figures in Lewis' presentation show an underfunded university hit even harder by federal budget cuts. With an estimated $13.5 million needed to fund the university's academics, Haskell's budget has come short of that number every year since 2010.
Haskell receives all of its educational and operational budget from the federal government.
At $10.8 million, educational funding hit a five-year low in 2013, the year of the automatic budget cuts known as the sequester. This year's educational budget, initially projected to be even lower than last year's, will be more than $12 million.
That will help Haskell avoid staff furloughs and fill vacant teaching and staff positions, though the amount is still short of Haskell's estimated need. Lewis also noted that the federal sequester is still law and will kick back in unless Congress can reach further budget agreements. "We only have a year and four month reprieve," Lewis said. "It's not like we're out of the woods."
Charles Roessel, director of the federal Bureau of Indian Education, a branch of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, said at Thursday's meeting that his agency was advocating for more funding for Haskell.
Roessel also pointed to one of Haskell's central challenges as a BIE-managed educational institution serving American Indians. He described the institution as "trying to exercise sovereignty within the federal government" and said he wanted to see Haskell gain more autonomy.