In a nation that is increasingly disillusioned with higher education, United Tribes Technical College (UTTC) is focusing on the holistic needs of its students in order to increase enrollment and build community. According to Leander R. McDonald, president of UTTC, his institution — and other tribal colleges like it — are taking a holistic approach to address students’ needs in addition to using technology to identify students who are struggling.
Since 2019’s COVID pandemic, students are taking a hard look at the value of a college degree and asking whether it is worth the sacrifice in terms of income and stress. McDonald shared that UTTC, located in Bismarck, North Dakota, is providing free childcare and food assistance, along with tuition support, to ensure that college is possible for its students. Moreover, UTTC is working with local businesses to set up degree and certificate programs that prepare students for the jobs that are required within the community. For example, the region is experiencing an oil boom, and the college teaches welding and geology to accommodate the boom. UTTC’s leadership also works with local industry and unions to create apprenticeships that enable students to earn college credit while acquiring work experience and earning a living wage. UTTC is focused on making the education that it offers relevant.
Four tribal communities established UTTC in 1969 with a focus on serving and preserving tribal communities and helping to develop the local workforce and enhance economic prosperity. Today, UTTC’s student body is 95% Native American or Alaska Native, with 75% of those students being low-income and 65% first generation.
Even with its community-based approach to education, sometimes students still struggle. That’s were technology plays a role. With support from Jenzabar, a higher education software and data-focused company, UTTC identified 17 factors that could have a negative impact on student retention (factors like marriage status, hunger, financial need, etc.) and enabled its retention alert system so that any member of UTTC’s faculty and staff could express a concern about a student. As a result of the UTTC-Jenzabar partnership, the college’s retention rate has increased by 37% in the past year.
According to McDonald, “We know what students need because we come from the same community. We use our knowledge to build the models that support students and we want to be data driven in our approach.” Prior to working with Jenzabar, UTTC was using student performance indicators that did not properly capture the progress — or lack of progress — of students. As Jaime Moquin, Vice President of Engagement at Jenzabar, explains “Technology helps UTTC to move toward advising the whole student.”
What makes UTTC’s approach unique is that the students have the opportunity to advise the administration on which data points to gather — leading to higher retention as no one understands students’ needs better than students themselves.