- Associated Press - Monday, October 12, 2015

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) - A college run by North Dakota tribes has closed a satellite branch in South Dakota, ending a $1.2 million expansion project after just two years.

The Black Hills Learning Center in Rapid City was developed as a resource center for students taking courses online. In 2013 it was touted by tribal officials in North Dakota, who saw it as a potential training ground for Fort Berthold Reservation’s oil workers, and by South Dakota’s governor, who hailed it as an opportunity for people to improve their lives through education.

In the end, it attracted fewer than 40 students - about one-fourth the 150 students necessary for survival - and was shut down after the spring semester, United Tribes Technical College President Leander “Russ” McDonald said.

“I see it as a learning experience for the college,” he said.

The branch was housed in a building that once was home to National American University, which moved to a new location in 2013. Bismarck-based UTTC launched the learning center in August of that year with a ceremony that included Tex Hall, former chairman of the Three Affiliated Tribes in North Dakota, and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard.

A feasibility study indicated the 150-student goal could be reached, a finding that consultant Lee Wolf, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, stands by.

“I pinpoint what the opportunity is,” he said of his studies. “How they execute it isn’t up to me.”

McDonald speculated that other schools in the region might have drawn away potential students.

“The feasibility study projected that there was a significant need for additional educational opportunities in the Rapid City area,” he said.

The low number of students and federal budget cuts doomed the center. “We really couldn’t afford it,” he said. “So what we did was encourage (students) to continue with online programs.”

The center had three full-time staff members. One left for another job, one was cut and one was offered a position on the Bismarck campus but declined, McDonald said.

Hall was chairman of the college’s board when the center was opened. The Associated Press was unable to contact him for this story because his cellphone mailbox is full. Current Three Affiliated Tribes Chairman Mark Fox did not respond to a request for comment.

Daugaard said he was “sorry that this didn’t work out.”

“Indian education is an area where South Dakota needs to continue to improve,” he said.


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