One North Dakota Tribal College Has A 0% Graduation Rate

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A lot of ink (or bandwidth, to update the term) gets spilled over the poor performance of North Dakota’s eleven public universities, and that’s as it should be given the abysmal graduation rates and skyrocketing taxpayer expenditures/tuition costs. North Dakota simply isn’t being served that well by its university system.

But there are other universities in the state whose performance goes ignored. North Dakota is home to five tribal colleges, and they aren’t preforming very well according to college completion data compiled by the Chronicle of Higher Education. Tom Burnett, writing for the John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy called the performance of tribal colleges nationally a “tragedy.”

That word would seem to apply in North Dakota as well.

Here’s a run-down:

Fort Berthold Community College

Located in New Town, ND, this two-year college has an enrollment of 215 students and a 150% graduation rate (meaning the number of students earning a two-year degree in three years) of just 12.8%. But that low graduation rate isn’t due to a lack of funding. The university is spending $179,879 per degree, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education which includes spending on “instruction, research, public service, student services, academic support, institutional support, operations, and maintenance.” By comparison, the biggest-spending state college in the state is UND at just over $97,000 per degree.

United Tribes Technical College

Located in Bismarck, ND, this is a two-year college which has an enrollment of 600 students. The three-year graduation rate for two-year degrees is just 19.2%, which isn’t far of the University of North Dakota’s four-year graduation rate of 21.1% and is the best out of the tribal colleges, but well below the state’s public two-year graduation rates which run around 33%. Again, spending per degree is enormous at over $104,000 per degree.

Cankdeska Cikana Community College

Located in Fort Totten, ND, this is a two-year college with an enrollment of 200 students spending $81,374 per degree and graduating just 7.4% of two-year students in three years.

Turtle Mountain Community College

Located in Belcourt, ND, this is a four-year institution with the largest enrollment out of any of the tribal colleges at 969 students. The college is spending $68,395 per degree, but has a 150% graduation rate (six years for a four year degree) that is, shockingly, 0%.

Sitting Bull Community College

Located in Fort Yates, ND, this is a four-year institution with an enrollment of 314 students. The institution is spending $60,224 per degree, and has a 150% graduation rate of 11.8%.

Altogether, what we’re seeing is lots of money spent, but few positive outcomes. Or a somewhat worse version of what we’re seeing at the state universities.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • The Whistler

    Perhaps the schools’ real mission isn’t really about educating young people.

    • LastBestHope

      Mr. Peabody…you wise old dog you.

  • Kindred10

    How is it even possible to have a 0% graduation rate??? That’s truly incredible.

  • Betty

    Child mortality rates are higher than graduation rates! Pretty sad!

    • The Whistler

      That’s socialized medicine at work.

  • Captjohn

    I questioned during the legislative session why legislators gave the tribes money.
    The article is in Robb’s file somewhere. It’s time to cut them off. It is spending we should have never started.

  • Nick

    A lot of judgment, little substance. A lot of statistics but no real measure to compare them to. In the end, if you want to write on this subject, I would do something more comprehensive, a little more scientifically approached with a research method and leave out the superlatives. I guess I’m just an academic but I don’t like open ended data interpretation without a comparison data set for an anchor.

    • Rob

      I’m not sure a 0, or even a 19%, graduation rate needs a comparison prove it is awful.

      But I’m just a taxpayer, not interested in couching the failures of higher ed in spin.

      • Nick

        However, you don’t consider any mitigating factors. Some thoughts (this is not a defense but things you did not consider without passing a lot of superlatives and judgment).

        1. Community background. Educating anyone who has never had a family member graduate from college before makes them increasingly likely to not complete college. These groups taken in isolation at other universities show similar law completion rates in the teens.

        2. Transfers. Two-year colleges and especially smaller colleges often are seen as stepping stones where students then transfers to a larger school. This data is difficult to track.

        3. Failure v. non-completion. Are students failing or just not completing the degree at that institution.

        4. Money. Students from these backgrounds often face up-hill battles to secure funding even through FAFSA.

        5. Costs comparison parity. The infrastructure costs of a large university is going to be less per student because it’s spread over more students versus smaller universities.

        There are many many more things to consider here. This data taken in isolation could indicate something or it might not. You seem to jump right to a conclusion without even considering the possibilities of what the data could actually mean.

        • Rob

          This wasnt intended as a comprehensive dissertation on the topic but rather an attempt to remind people that these places exist, and by theatrics available they aren’t performing well.

          There are a lot of reasons to be unhappy with these numbers whatever the explanation.

        • John_Wayne_American

          Money? “Students from these backgrounds often face up-hill battles to secure funding even through FAFSA.” I was under the beilef that those tribal schools, the tution was provided by the tribes themselves, I don’t think the students spend much time filling out FAFSA forms, they show their tribal ID and show up for classes the first couple of months before dropping out.

          When I attended UND-W a hundred years ago, the Snap-On dealer would bring in starter tool boxes worth at that time ~$2500 for the diesel and auto mech classes. By Halloween 3 of my friends had purchased 3 of those tool boxes from students from New Town and Ft. Berthhold that had dropped out and sold those boxes for $5-600 each. quite a loss, not to mention they took up 3 spots from at the time a very well desired program that was limited in enrollment.

      • Nick

        Another observation is you are looking at 150% period. So, a 2 year degree in 3 years or a 4 year in 6. However, given the financial situation of many students, some degrees are stretched over several years. While I went on to received a Master of Arts and Juris Doctor, I spent 8 years completing my bachelor’s degree as do many with financial hardships. A lone statistic can be incredibly misleading when not investigated or questioned. I propose you investigate to be sure your judgement is properly placed.

        • Rob

          0% graduation rate, Nick.


          I know you higher ed guys get defensive when anyone questions your bubble, but some things are inexcusable.

          • Nick

            I think you mistake defensiveness for a confusion over lack of work. Yes, 0% but why is it 0%? Are they truly graduating no one? Is there another explanation for this statistic? Assumptions are not the province of good journalism. Those of us who have been through higher education do get defensive… when people like reporters stop asking questions and investigating but instead pass judgment and bias into their work. Have you called the school in question? Have you interviewed anyone for an answer? I want to know why it’s 0% but I will not assume it’s quite as simple as you make it.

          • Rob

            These are the metrics by which we judge the universities. These are the rulers.

            Maybe there are good explanations out there, and maybe the universities will be willing to offer them. Usually they just shut people like me down. That’s been my experience here in ND.

            But the numbers are real. I didn’t just make them up, and we begin the debate by putting data like this on the table.

          • Rob

            I think you mistake defensiveness for a confusion over lack of work.

            And I think you’re trying to split hairs.

            Again, the data is what it is. I’m presenting it because, honestly, a lot of North Dakotans don’t even know these places exist.

            But they get a lot of state and federal tax dollars, so consider this my effort to start a debate about their performance.

          • Nick

            If your intention is to start a debate, great! That means we need to find answers to what the metrics mean. As someone who has existed in a corporate world for a long time, we use a lot of metrics. However, we always look at metrics as a tool to understand where to look and ask questions. We don’t generally suddenly make a judgment based on a single metric, we look for root causes of the metric and possible explanations (good or bad) which may explain it. Especially those so far off the norm. You didn’t really do that though. You took a metric and got very judgmental. If your intention is to seek truth, please do so. I see you making a splash with a single stat without any explanation and a cop-out that you’d just get shut down but never asked.

          • Rob

            I’m not copping out, nor am I the only person who sees these metrics as a problem.

          • Nick

            Ok, I decided to do a little digging because 0% is too stark. It’s almost saying “I can’t be true.” Well according to some more stats from Turtle Mountain.

            Freshman 434
            Sophomore 304

            Junior 6

            Senior 20


            What I see here is a clear drop off after two years. What does this mean? Does it mean almost everyone fails after their Sophomore year? I would doubt that. If the school was failing at teaching, think you’d see a more graduated drop off from Freshman to Senior. More likely, what this means is that this school is primarily what is called a “stepping stone college” It’s a 4 year college being treated as a two year. I get my general education cheap and then move on now that I have an academic record. I would say there is a LOT of this at work than simple a failing school. I would like to see a study which traces the academic progress of a couple classes of student entering and as they leave the school to be able to understand if this is a failure or a partial success as students are actually moving on to get degrees just at bigger schools. Perhaps, a reformation of the school as a 4 year university is the question and not that it’s just “tragic.”

          • Rob

            The spending per degree for a “stepping stone” college, if that is indeed what it is, is absolutely tragic.

          • Nick

            Ok, so UND can spend $97,631 per degree but Turtle Mountain at $68,395 is tragic? The geographic region, resources in the area, and low student population are likely all contributing factors to costs but if we can educate the general education requirements of a degree for 2/3 the cost and then have them move on to a 4 year college if and when ready, wouldn’t that be more cost effective and less “tragic”? Again, just a possibility but the data I see I believe supports my position a little better. I would still like to see more research into this area to be sure but I think you are jumping to politically motivated conclusions without being properly informed. Again, statistics taken in isolation can be highly misleading.

          • Rob

            So, you’ll just run with your assumptions instead of mine.



          • Nick

            Nope. You are making another assumption. As I say all along. I am not making a definitive judgment based on an isolated statistic. I will however play devil’s advocate that there is more to an isolated statistic than meets the eye and I was able to produce factual evidence which backs up alternative explanations. However I never conclude I am absolutely right but point out it’s “likely” not “absolute.” I provide more facts and develop alternative explanations but also state that those alternatives are not conclusive until more research is accomplished. I am not the reporter or the “watchdog” but even watchdogs should do more research. You didn’t even call the schools by your own admission. You reached judgment on an isolated statistic without any regard or even consideration for any alternative explanations. Assumptions, Mr. Port, assumptions is all I’m pointing out.

          • Rob

            The data is pretty self explanatory. I’ve covered this data extensively for North Dakota’s other 11 campuses. Showing the data for the tribal colleges, in the context of the work I’ve done on the NDUS as a whole, is a valid post.

            You’re obfuscating.

        • opinionated

          What the hell part of 0% can you not understand captain masters degree? If i am ever looking for an apologist I know who to come too, the guy with a thousand excuses inhis pocket and too smart for the obvious

      • opinionated

        Excellant response from a real person rob… I could not have said it better…Only an academic would try to put the spin on those numbers

    • meh

      It would be interesting to research why it is 0% and how the college plans on increasing the graduation rate to at least the state average!

      • The Whistler

        I think if we were to double the funding they would be willing to promise that they’d double that 0% graduation rate.

        • Rob


        • meh

          I see what you did there

        • devilschild

          zero + zero = zero

          • The Whistler

            more like zero times two.

  • sbark

    And do any of them have football programs…maybe there is a connection …:)

  • Marcus

    What are the job placement statistic for these colleges.

    Graduating with a degree and being un-employed does not paint an accurate picture of graduation stats.

    If people with some college education find themselves employed…or are employable, then the education they received deserves some merit.

    There are ALOT of well educated unemployed people that are “over-qualified” for most positions.

  • WOOF

    How is it possible to have a college with 215 students ?
    Not really enough students to support an academic staff
    that could grant degrees.
    Maybe that’s why nobody graduates.

    Seems more a place where people pick up a few courses.

  • WOOF

    “This spring 2013 the Fort Berthold Community College is graduating approximately 45 students with Vocational
    Certificates, Associate Degrees, and Bachelor Degrees.
    Additionally, twentyfive students formally completed their Adult Education GED requirements and will be graduating as well”

  • LastBestHope

    I had to read all the comments to make sure I fully understood this shocking news. And sure enough, we have someone here who wants to argue what the definition of “graduate” is.

    With the lefties, parsing words is just SOP

    It “is” what it “is”..

    • WOOF

      What’d your mom do after the prom?

      • LastBestHope

        She went home with my dad. And they both left to see the Lord almost simultaneously at age 85. One heartbeat.

  • meh

    Google found this, but it is a little out of date
    see page 13 of the report

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    I am unclear where the students who use the schools as the first 2 years of college fall into this. For example, a tribal member may want an engineering degree. He gets his first 2 years of school out of the way in Fort Totten, picks up his generals and fills any weaknesses in his education from high school, and then moves on to NDSU.

    Does he count as a graduate of the college in Fort Totten or as one who did not receive a degree?

    • WOOF

      The numbers are just garbage right wing anti-intellectual
      think drains serve to the simple.

      • Waski_the_Squirrel

        The Chronicle of Higher Education is pretty well respected in education circles. I don’t think dismissing the source with name calling is useful for telling anyone why you question the data.

        I just feel that the information given is incomplete, and the question I asked is one of the questions I was left with.

        • WOOF

          As interpreted by an apparatchik of the John William Pope Center, a think drain, not so respected.

          • Waski_the_Squirrel

            The data came from the Chronicle. The think tank wrote an article based on the numbers as did Rob and, I’m sure, many other sources.

            I’m not clear why the numbers are “garbage”.

            I’ll just add that I work a bit with tribal colleges. Even many of the North Dakota tribal colleges have recognized the problems that are cited in the think tank article and are taking slow steps to correct them. As the article notes, the problems with the tribal colleges begin long before the students get to college.

          • Rob

            They’re garbage according to Poodle because he doesn’t like them.

          • WOOF

            The numbers are fine, the interpretation is bogus. You know it don’t you?

          • Rob

            There’s really only one way to interpret a 0% graduation rate.

          • WOOF

            These seem commuter schools, part timers.
            Harvard spends 360K per degree
            Yale 500K.

            Pretty much everybody graduates,every body gets financial aid,. Harvard gave out $116 million in a year.
            Want more graduates, pay for them.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    I just reread the article after checking the numbers with the source and noticed that UTC is shown right below the headline. I think that this is misleading. Either Turtle Mountain should be there or even Fort Berthold. To the casual browser, it looks like United Tribes has no graduates.

  • awfulorv

    The Indian students are, just like black students, not expected to attain success. It is enough that they spend time in and around the facilities, thereby affording the liberal professors, and administrators, at those outrageous costs per degree, a damn nice salary. The whole situation fairly cries out for teaching via the internet.

    • lots.o.giggles

      i don’t expect you to attain success in coming to logical conclusions.
      “outrageous costs per degree”.. Ha. feel free to look up tuition costs for ND tribal colleges, NDUS and Private schools in ND. Doctor.

      • Rob

        But tuition isn’t the measure.

        One of these tribal colleges has a cost per degree (that’s spending by the university per degree) that’s nearly double UND. That would be UND which has a medical school and a flight school.

  • opinionated

    How many pell grants (watsed money) are we handing out? Any college with less than a 25% graduation rate should be shut down tommorrow, because they obviously are not necessary.

  • Drain52

    Turtle Mountain College’s graduation rate of 0% means the per-graduate cost is, so far, infinite.

  • Lisa

    Why do you have the UTTC logo underneath your headline about a 0% graduation rate? It is extremely misleading and makes it appear that your headline is referring to UTTC when, in fact, it’s not.

    • Rob

      I guess that’s fair, but the UTTC didn’t exactly do well either.

  • giggles

    Did you know 6 of the 7 poorest counties in the entire country are located in North Dakota and South Dakota? A lot of these residents are leaving these areas and going to these colleges. Neither these students nor the colleges are “rolling in the dough”. They are STRUGGLING in life. And they are struggling to get out of a bad situation.
    There are positive ways to help these communities and these citizens of North Dakota other than revving up the “F*** the Indian” mobs with this kind of reporting.

    • Rob

      See, that’s the problem. A big reason (though not the only reason) why these areas are so socially and economically depressed is because of tribal corruption and incompetence.

      It’s not anti-Indian to suggest that these colleges aren’t serving their communities well.

  • John_Wayne_American

    Man I’ll bet those Commencement ceremonies are short.. They must have the invocation, the guest speaker, probably some left leaning politician that panders to the natives, then on to the Valedictorian, who must be selected from the few remaining students, then on to passing out all 3 diplomas and then Cake and Ice Cream in the Gym!

  • John_Wayne_American

    Where do they get those enrollment numbers from.. ? think about it, Ft. Totton has like 1200 people, does it even have a High School? The other towns on the reservation are even smaller. Hell Benson county only has 6723 people (July 2011) Where do they get 200 students from?

    Do the count everyone that takes a childcare or cooking class on thurs nights ans a student? If they do, then what is the actual numbers of full time students? and then what really is the per student cost?