In 'historic event,' Blackfeet Community College establishes $3 million endowment fund

Jan 31, 2022

Great Falls Tribune

Blackfeet Community College announced on Friday it had established a $3 million endowment fund — the first endowment in school history.

The school's investment committee decided that the fund will remain in place for at least ten years, "while interest is used to perpetuate the educational growth of Blackfeet Community College," according to a news release. USI Advisors, Inc. will provide financial management over the fund.

College President Karla Bird said the "opportunity would not be available without the generosity of philanthropist, MacKenzie Scott."

Scott, formerly married to billionaire Jeff Bezos, in 2020 donated $4.2 billion to 384 organizations nationwide, including Blackfeet Community College. Her gift was the largest donation the college had ever received.

Kimberly Boy, chairperson at the college, said Scott's gift has allowed the school to "assure continuous service."

"This gift will provide Blackfeet Community College the potential for growth and expansion of the current curriculum and physical campus as well," she said. "Our students and our community rely heavily on this college, they will now have the chance to benefit from this historic event."

Blackfeet Community College is working with Education Northwest, an organization dedicated to improving education, to assess community needs and develop a long-term plan for the growth of the college.

Located in Browning, Blackfeet Community College was chartered in 1974 by the tribal council to provide educational opportunities to residents of the Blackfeet Reservation and surrounding communities. The school serves between 300 and 450 students each semester.

Scott also made gifts to Salish Kootenai College, located on the Flathead Reservation, and Chief Dull Knife College on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation in 2020.

Sandra Boham, president of Salish Kootenai College, told the Tribune in 2020 that when Scott's advisors called, she cried.

"I don't know if MacKenzie Scott realizes how incredible this is for our college. If I could, I would grab her and hug her. Institutions like ours, we don't usually get the kind of donations she's making," Boham said, adding that the college relies on grant funding and hadn't increased tuition in seven years.

"If we increase tuition, our students can't access our opportunities. And we are all about equity and cultural perpetuation. We are open-admission and operate on a tight budget, but we are truly that gateway to making someone's life change," she said. 

Tribal colleges provide Native and non-Native students an affordable path to higher education; they bring employment opportunities to rural communities and contribute millions of dollars to the state's economy each year, according to a recent Montana Budget and Policy Center report, which deemed the schools "an outstanding return on investment." 

Though tribal colleges get some revenue from tuition, their primary source of funding comes from a federal law, which authorizes $8,000 to colleges for each American Indian beneficiary student, according to the Montana Budget and Policy Center report. But the actual allocation is subject to appropriation, and in 2016, tribal colleges received about $6,700 per beneficiary student. 

Montana provides state funding to tribal colleges to support resident, full-time nonbeneficiary students, but that funding is capped at $3,280 per nonbeneficiary student. 

Montana Budget & Policy Center

Shaping policy for a stronger Montana.

MBPC is a nonprofit organization focused on providing credible and timely research and analysis on budget, tax, and economic issues that impact low- and moderate-income Montana families.