Cherokee Promise Scholarship funded until 2020

BY BRITTNEY BENNETT
Former Reporter
08/28/2017 08:15 AM
Main Cherokee Phoenix
In this 2011 photo, then-Northeastern State University freshman Jasiony Gann unpacks with the help of her mother in Haskell Hall at NSU in Tahlequah, Okla. Gann was one of the first 48 Cherokee Promise Scholarship recipients. The program is set to end in 2020. ARCHIVES
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. – Tribal Councilors on Aug. 15 modified the Cherokee Nation’s budget to fund current Cherokee Promise Scholars through graduation and supplement incoming freshman for the 2017-18 academic year.

The modification moved $250,000 to the tribe’s Native American Housing Assistance and Self-Determination Act budget.

“We set money back every year because some grants are matching grants,” Tribal Councilor Janees Taylor said in the Aug. 15 Education Committee meeting. “This funding has come together from funding that (CN) Education (Services) has, from the NAHASDA funding that we can use for this and the matching grants.”

Fifty-one Cherokee Promise scholars will continue to receive $4,600 per semester through graduation as long as they meet eligibility requirements.

Once the last cohort graduates in 2020, the program will end and there are “no immediate future plans” for a replacement, Education Services Executive Director Ron Etheridge said.

Of the 98 freshmen who submitted a Cherokee Promise Scholarship application, 70 will receive $4,600 per semester for fall 2017-18. However, those students are not classified as Cherokee Promise scholars.

After spring 2018, those 70 students will only be eligible for up to $3,000 per semester via the $2,000 CN Undergraduate Scholarship and the $1,000 College Housing Assistance Scholarship.

The other 28 students were not eligible for the Cherokee Promise Scholarship because they don’t live within the tribe’s jurisdiction and weren’t Pell Grant eligible. However, they will receive $2,000 for the 2017-18 academic year with the CN Undergraduate Scholarship.

Confusion surrounding the Cherokee Promise Scholarship began when applicants learned via a letter dated Aug. 2 that the program would no longer fund new scholars “due to a reinterpretation of federal guidelines.” It also informed applicants to apply for other CN scholarships.

Principal Chief Bill John Baker said the funding cuts resulted from several factors, including an internal review and reinterpretation of NAHASDA guidelines.

“That gave us the reason to go to all the programs and re-evaluate where NAHASDA dollars were going so that we could best serve all of the Cherokees under NAHASDA funding,” he said. “Our review showed that maybe that wasn’t a proper use of the funds, and one of the first things I told my executive directors and everybody is, ‘keep me legal.’ It was before my time. It was before any of my Education (Services) folks’ time.”

Attorney General Todd Hembree said the scholarship funding was not illegal, but to be “good stewards” of CN money, tribal administration, Education Services and NAHASDA officials decided to “reprogram” the funds to “find funding that is without question.”

Treasurer Lacey Horn said administration officials were also unaware of the situation and would have had funds to cover freshman applicants if proper time had been given to go through the “legislatively required process of a budget modification request.”

The Cherokee Promise Scholarship program began in 2011, funding eligible freshman who resided within the tribe’s 14-county jurisdiction with a per semester scholarship of $4,600 if they attended Northeastern State University. Rogers State University and Connors State College were added as Cherokee Promise schools later.

To maintain the scholarship, recipients had to keep at least a 2.7 grade point average, complete community service hours and live with their cohort in designated campus housing. Scholars were also given on-site advisement and cultural education through Cherokee language classes and activities.

It is the latter that Jacob Chavez, a Cherokee Promise Scholar and NSU junior, said he was concerned about in light of the program being discontinued.

“I think that it is unfortunate that the program is ending because it provides opportunities for future Cherokee leaders,” he said. “The program is valuable because it helps foster both language and culture for its members. Hopefully, the Cherokee Nation realizes this importance and works to bring a similar program back in the future.”

Echoing those thoughts was 2011 Cherokee Promise Scholar Colten Boston.

“It breaks my heart to hear about the program being cancelled,” he said. “A lot of my success at college and my appreciation of my Cherokee culture came from participating in it, and it saddens me that future students won’t have the same opportunity that I had.”

Etheridge indicated he was “confident” students would still be interested in learning the culture and language in the program’s absence. “Yeah, it hurts a little bit that we’re losing that, but we’re still teaching the language in the 14 counties. I think it’s still being done. It’s just going to be done a different way. We just felt like there was a better way to utilize the funds to educate the masses.”

Throughout the program’s six-year duration, 15 out of 300 students have graduated as Cherokee Promise Scholars, Etheridge said. He said the data was skewed largely because older students did not want to continue living in college housing, as the scholarship requires.

For more information about CN scholarships, visit www.cherokee.org/Services/Education/College-Resources.

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