As a nontraditional student and tribal member, Stanton Alexander's first choice of schools was White Earth Tribal and Community College. "I felt welcome right away," he said.
Less appealing to him was the mile-long walk along the highway from the college's main campus to the student services building—which housed the admissions and financial aid offices. However, in 2016, financing from the Midwest Minnesota Community Development Corp. (MMCDC) and its affiliates helped fill the gap between the $3.5 million cost of expanding the college to include a student services wing and the $1.8 million in contributions from the institution and its foundation.
As a result, the walk to admissions or to inquire about financial aid now is far shorter and takes students through the main campus' circular Drum Hall and past the new library and climate-controlled document-storage area, among other features. A prairie, prayer center and healing garden are located behind the sustainably designed 14,475-square-foot wing. A patio is located off the library.
The new wing is a far cry from the aging building that once served as the admissions point for new students. The college's use of natural wood and lighting, along with Native American designs, sets it apart.
That connection to nature, community and culture is considered important to student enrollment and graduation. At the same time, the college connects its students to a broader educational environment through distance learning made possible by a combination of video teaching and on-site tutoring.
Interim College President Tracy Clark in her new office in the student services/administration wing.
"This opens up the world to us," interim College President Tracy Clark says. She has set a goal of offering Harvard classes to her students via distance learning, believing they lend credibility to the institution, despite its fairly brief history and remote location.
Clark understands very well the desire by students like Alexander—who now works as an on-campus tutor for the University of Minnesota Extension Office—to seek additional education and employment opportunities close to home. Born and raised on the reservation herself, Clark commuted to a job 45 miles away before her appointment to her current position.
"People don't always understand it, but we want to stay here," she says, adding that transportation barriers and family obligations also factor into student decisions to pursue education locally.
To finance the college expansion, MMCDC used the federal New Markets Tax Credit program and offered a seven-year interest-only loan. By the end of the seven-year compliance period, the foundation plans to raise sufficient funds to repay all the debt. It could be just in time for the next expansion to serve a growing student body.