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At MSU-Billings, tribal enrollment has increased by almost 14%



Billings, Montana – The percentage of Native Americans on campus at MSU-Billings has increased by about 14% during the spring of 2022 to 2023, according to data made public by the university on Tuesday.

Teachers and students claim that steps are still being taken to ensure that the MSUB local population will succeed in the future.

Bryor Smith, a student, is a perfect illustration of how much effort and time it takes to complete an education.

“My perfect world is for people that want to get an education, I want them to be able to go. And once they’re there, I want them to be retained and to stay on the path in order to not go down the wrong road,” said Smith, a junior at MSUB, on Tuesday.

Smith has previously attended MSUB. Like many students, he initially left because he missed his home.

“I think a lot of people get homesick because they don’t really have a community when they go to college. It’s kind of a culture shock,” added Smith.

Several Native Americans in Montana who are currently pursuing degrees at MSUB have similar stories to his. With tribe representation reaching an all-time high, enrollment is rising across the board.

The director of American Indian outreach at MSUB is Sunny Day Real Bird. She started her job two years ago and saw that many tribal members were having difficulties in areas unrelated to their academic performance.

“The mission at the Native American achievement center is to help recruit and retain native students here at MSUB… A lot of it has to do with making sure that they’re getting connected to the right resources. And then making sure that students are being accountable and understanding how critical punctuality and attendance is to be successful,” said Real Bird on Tuesday.

Retaining the students and seeing them through to completion became crucial after the success began.

“We saw a 19% retention rate increase for our Native American students. A lot of that is due to the hard work of Sunny Day and her team. To really connect with those students, connect them with resources and really make them feel at home here at MSU-B,” said Katharine Moffat, retention director at MSUB, Tuesday.

Smith is all too familiar with the feeling of home. He attended Fort Peck Community College to earn an associate’s degree closer to home, but he always knew he wanted to return.

“Sunny does a great job of having events for all of those to kind of get together and get to know each other from different tribes,” Smith said.

And he is confident that when he is finished, he will be able to help his tribe again.

“I like to see Native people get out and get an education because not a lot of people make it off the rez all the time. But when they do, they usually come back and try to help out with the people,” added Smith.

“An unfinished degree is the most expensive and once they’ve completed it a lot of it is helping build native community,” Real Bird added.


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