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Windy Boy sponsors bill to help tribal college credits to transfer


February 13, 2019

Jonathan Windy Boy

Rep. Jonathan Windy Boy, D-Box Elder, has introduced a bill to create a task force that will help tribal college credits transfer to off-reservation colleges and universities.

"For me, this is long overdue," Windy Boy said.

He said this is an equal-opportunity bill that will make it so that no tribal college students will have to spend extra time and money to obtain their degrees.

Now, many college classes from tribal colleges will not transfer to most units of the Montana University System, so transfer students have to re-take classes that don't transfer.

House Bill 135 would create a temporary tribal college transfer and student opportunity task force to ensure that credits earned by students at Montana's seven tribal colleges are transferable to other schools within the Montana University System, improving education and workforce development in Indian Country and across Montana, the bill said.

The bill says it would appropriate $100,000 from the general fund to go to the office of the Commissioner of Higher Education for the purpose of creating the task force.

Windy Boy said the task force will deal with getting tribal colleges in compliance with common course numbering.

Montana University System of Deputy Commissioner of Higher Education, Academic, Research and Student Affairs Brock Tessman said common course numbering is one way the Montana University System has worked to make transferring credits throughout all the colleges in Montana easier.

He said the Office of Commissioner of Higher Education has been working for the past decade to establish a common course numbering system among the 20,000 courses Montana Colleges and universities conduct each year.

The common course numbering system, Tessman said, allows courses that share 80 percent or more of the same content in equivalent courses offered at other campuses to automatically transfer to those other csmpuses.

Windy Boy's bill will create a task force that will work on curricula to extend common course numbering and benefit all the colleges within the system, Tessman said.

"We think it's a big plus," he said. "We obviously want to support all of our students across the state and so this will allow us to get closer to supporting tribal college students through common course numbering."

He added that colleges and universities can be fully accredited, although not in compliance with common course numbering, the two being completely separate.

"It's not easy," he said. "You know, it takes a lot of time and you can't just fake it. You have to make sure that the courses actually do match up close enough to warrant a common number."

Tessman said it is hard work, with faculty members from different campuses having to get together and sit down and go through each course and figure out how they can unify the programs.

He added that he is optimistic that Windy Boy's bill will pass and that with the task force they will be able to get all the tribal colleges in the common course system within the next five years.

Common course numbering works, he said, showing a large amount of success within the system. It's a worthy endeavor to extend it to the tribal colleges, he added.

"The office of the Commissioner of Higher Education is fully behind Rep. Windy Boy's bill," Tessman said.

Windy Boy said some credits transfer, such as between Stone Child College and Montana State University-Northern, but those are through articulation agreements which don't allow all courses offered to transfer.

Since he started in the Legislature, he said, he has heard every excuse why bills such as the one he is proposing should not pass, most recently that tribal colleges' accreditations are in question.

He said credits transferring, in this case, is not a question of accreditation but getting colleges in line with common course numbering. Most of the colleges in the Montana University System, he added, are accredited by the same organization.

"I'm at the point now where just enough excuses," Windy Boy said. "It's just time now to get this done."

Montana State University-Northern public information officer Jim Potter said Northern has a number of articulation agreements and is in the process of updating them. These articulation agreements with tribal colleges help make sure credits are able to transfer, he said.

Articulation agreements, most of the time, refer to if people have previously achieved an associate degree at another campus, such as tribal colleges, he said. The agreement allows them to bring their degree into the program so these students can achieve their bachelor's degree within two years. Potter said each articulation agreement is different and sometimes can extend to specific courses.

These agreements go in both directions, he said, with Northern having many students who transfer to and from tribal colleges.

He said he hasn't read the specifics of the bill but the concept is excellent and Northern is in full support of it.

"(The bill will) help improve the quality of the education for the students," Potter said. "The people who benefit are all our students, so those are good things."

Windy Boy said that this idea is long overdue. Tribal colleges have been established for almost 40 years and are still having to jump through hurdles to get equal opportunities.

He said many non-native students also attend these tribal colleges and if this bill passes it would only be a benefit to the entire Montana University System.

"I'm at the point that if this doesn't move, I'm going to make an attempt to blast it on the floor," Windy Boy said.

He added that he has many supporters of this bill, including Senate Education Committee Chair Daniel Salomon, R-Ronan, and believes he will be able to pass it there.

Tessman said that getting colleges in line with the common course numbering system, no matter how difficult, is a part of their jobs as educators. He added as a word of caution as Windy Boy's bill moves forward, everyone should recognize that it has taken a decade and thousands of staff hours in order to get to where the program is.

"If we're committed to success for our students then that work is just part of our jobs and we just have to be realistic about the amount of time and energy it's going to take to get it done," he said.

Potter said that all the schools in the Montana University System wants the best for students and wants them to succeed.

"If we can develop some pathways for them to succeed and make that transition easier and smoother and cleaner, and we are always for that," he said.


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