Friday Focus: MSI, ANNH and DNA

Nettie La Belle-Hamer, vice chancellor for research
UAF photo by Eric Engman
Nettie La Belle-Hamer, vice chancellor for research

May 17, 2024

— By Nettie La Belle-Hamer, vice chancellor for research

In the world of government-generated acronyms, MSI and ANNH are two that are important for us to understand where they come from and why they are important to you and me – and to UAF. Let me start with an acknowledgment that acronyms from the government can be confusing. An appropriate analogy could be what the Opposing Bases podcast hosts call pushing penguins. Spoiler alert – your brain is an iceberg and penguins are knowledge. Penguins jump on only to knock others back into the water, but you really should click the link! I am going to attempt to push as few penguins off the iceberg as possible while inviting several on board, so I won’t go into all the details. I want to help you connect the significance of our new eligibility to us, to our six goals, and to UAF’s DNA.

The Minority Serving Institutions (MSI) concept sprouted from the Higher Education Act of 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson’s domestic agenda. This Act was based on the belief that it is in the best interest of our nation to no longer view higher education as a luxury but as a necessity for U.S. citizens. Once that belief was accepted, the natural next step was to introduce a bill to "strengthen the educational resources of our colleges and universities and to provide financial assistance for students in postsecondary education." It was signed into law in November of 1965. Many amendments were made over the years to increase awareness, support specific minority groups, and create Federal support in a myriad of ways, including the Pell Grant.

In the U.S. Department of Education’s 2024 MSI eligibility matrix, UAF was designated a Native American-Serving Nontribal Institution (NASNTI) and an Alaska Native and Hawaiian Native-Serving Institution (ANNH), thanks to the efforts of the chancellor and his core cabinet working together on this important process. Nickole Conley, Trent Sutton and Charlene Stern led this team effort to complete the piles of paperwork, so to them I say a special thank you! While the rural campuses of UAF have long been eligible as ANNH institutions, now UAF as a whole is an official MSI! This is good!

Good because we are moving toward our goal of strengthening our position as global leaders in Alaska Native and Indigenous programs. Good because many research opportunities open up to the whole Nanook Nation once we have the official designation. Good because it provides tangible incentives to collaborate across disciplines, across our units, and across the State.

At the risk of losing a penguin or two, I want to bring in some more details before I close. While several amendments have been made since 1965 and at least five Executive Orders, I want to call your attention to the 2011 Executive Order 13592 from President Barack Obama. This executive order is specific to improving educational opportunities for American Indian and Alaska Native students. This order broadly covers education for students in cities and rural areas; in public schools and the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Indian Education-funded schools; and in post-secondary education institutions. That’s all Alaskans! This order also calls out explicitly the intent to fulfill the government’s commitment to tribal self-determination by ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn their Native languages and history and receive a complete and competitive education. That’s UAF!

MSI eligibility is based on percentages of enrolled students from specific ethnic groups. True to our history and our DNA as a university, UAF’s MSI designation is first focused on Alaska Natives. But inclusion and caring do not stop there. I am proud of the progress we have made as a university and am excited to continue working with you on getting better every day.

Thank you for choosing UAF!

Friday Focus is a column written by a different member of UAF’s leadership team every week.