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Originally published Wednesday, February 18, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Indian college to grant first four-year degrees

Northwest Indian College will grant its first four-year bachelor's degrees this spring, a milestone in the college's evolution into a four-year institution after more than 25 years as a two-year school.

The Bellingham Herald

LUMMI RESERVATION — Northwest Indian College will grant its first four-year bachelor's degrees this spring, a milestone in the college's evolution into a four-year institution after more than 25 years as a two-year school.

Those first degrees will be in native environmental sciences. The graduates will have expertise that combines traditional Native-American knowledge with conventional environmental science.

Jessica Urbanec, a Lummi, expects to be one of those graduates.

"We incorporate our cultural beliefs with all the science," Urbanec said. "We have a direct link to the land because we have been here for generations."

Northwest Indian College descends from the Lummi Indian School of Aquaculture, which began in 1973 to provide training in salmon and shellfish-rearing techniques.

In 1983, the Lummi Indian Business Council moved to create a more comprehensive program, and the school became Lummi Community College.

By 1989, the college was attracting tribal youth from the region and took its present name.

More recently, fundraising enabled the college to add new buildings. Recent additions include a 67-student dormitory, a classroom building and an early-learning center that provides child care.

The college expects to break ground this year on a $3.7 million Center for Student Success, an office building that will bring together student services now scattered in existing buildings.

Also in the works is a $1.6 million natural-resources lab to serve the environmental-science program.

But the main campus serves only about a quarter of the college's approximately 1,100 students. The rest attend classes via Webcam facilities at six other reservation locations in the Northwest.

Students from about 100 tribes are enrolled, although about 20 percent of the student body is non-Indian.

To pay for its building program, the college has raised $30 million for its capital campaign.

The college hopes to raise an additional $10.2 million in the next few years, despite the tough economic times.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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