Tribal students can earn a degree on Tulalip land

TULALIP — American Indians can now earn a bachelor’s degree through a program tailored for them, without leaving the Tulalip Indian Reservation.

Through a partnership with The Evergreen State College, students can take nine credits per quarter in classrooms on the reservation. Another three credits are offered through intensive weekend classes one Saturday per month at a longhouse built for educational purposes on the Evergreen State College campus in Olympia.

“It’s not a native-studies program, but it’s looking at things with a native perspective,” said instructor Renee Swan-Waite, a Lummi tribal member.

The program isn’t limited to tribal members, but it is intended for those who have social, cultural or economic ties to tribes, said Christine Kerlin, executive director of The University Center of North Puget Sound.

Graduates will earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in liberal studies. The students take a prescribed series of classes including American Indians and Social policy, Tribal Management, Comparing Indigenous Societies and others. Classes meet twice each week at Tulalip, and on one full Saturday each month in Olympia.

Applicants must hold an associate’s degree or have earned at least 90 college credits to qualify for the program, Kerlin said.

Evergreen State College’s reservation-based bachelor’s degree program is already in place in the Makah, Muckleshoot, Nisqually, Port Gamble S’Klallam, Skokomish and Quinault communities.

The University Center of North Puget Sound is funded by the state to help bring higher education opportunities to the region, Kerlin said.

The Evergreen State College program coordinators connected with Tulalip tribal leaders late last year, and the program was in place at Tulalip in January.

Three students are currently working toward degrees.

The University Center of North Puget Sound gave Evergreen State college about $48,000 to start the program, Kerlin said.

The Tulalip Tribes pays tuition and offers a fixed stipend for books and living expenses for tribal members who enroll in college classes, Tulalip Tribes Chairman Mel Sheldon said.

For now, the program is housed in the Tulalip campus of the Bellingham-based Northwest Indian College, which offers associate degrees.

Sheldon said he expects the Evergreen program to attract more students when it moves into permanent facilities, but it’s not clear when that will happen.

Reporter Krista J. Kapralos: 425-339-3422 or

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