CROWNPOINT, N.M. — Dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is presenting unique challenges for higher education institutions, especially the Navajo Technical University because the Navajo Nation is the epicenter for the pandemic in Indian Country.

Providing its staff and students with a healthy and safe learning environment is of utmost importance for NTU leadership.

After offering 50 percent tuition assistance in the summer, Navajo Technical University has extended its tuition premium to the fall to accommodate students willing to continue to pursue their studies. Under the change, tribally enrolled students will pay $36 per credit hour while non-tribally enrolled members will incur $71.25 per credit. The assistance will also apply to tuition rates for NTU’s graduate programs. 

The tuition assistance decision came after NTU officials reached out to continuing students from the spring semester. Feedback indicated financial fears, but there were also concerns with the unfamiliarity of NTU’s transition to hybrid learning.

Hybrid involves a combination of face-to-face and online instruction and is structured so students can meet requirements by the Higher Learning Commission, NTU’s accreditation agency.

The HLC mandates that graduates of a face-to-face program cannot receive more than 50 percent of their degree via distance delivery. Students must also meet a minimum level of contact hours each semester. Many of NTU’s programs must meet national standards as well, such as standards set by the American Culinary Federation, the American Veterinary Medical Association, the National Center for Construction Education and Research and ABET.

To meet these requirements, NTU’s faculty members are developing staggered schedules that utilize Fridays and Saturdays to accommodate hands-on learning.

Housing has been made available for students near the end of their programs so hands-on work can be completed while limiting travel. Housing will be at 50 percent capacity and require strict re-entry measures. NTU has also formally submitted a waiver to the HLC for approval to go fully online with the exception of programs with labs and career and technical education courses.

Many of NTU’s two-year and four-year programs will be afforded the luxury of offering their courses online as long as they don’t exceed the 50 percent threshold in one semester. But students in NTU’s one-year certificate programs may require face-to-face instruction within the year, making it difficult to pursue a degree without having to physically come to class. Currently, NTU’s Master of Science degree in management information systems is the only degree on the Navajo Nation that can be obtained completely online.

“Our current students will benefit from the tuition assistance as they are familiar with NTU and have momentum in place to complete their degrees in a timely manner,” explained NTU Provost Colleen W. Bowman. “During these uncertain times, many students have elected to remain close to home and NTU is prepared to assist with the tuition break and quality programs to help students continue or start their college careers. Our focus is to support current, returning and new students with the tuition assistance.”

NTU adjusted its fall schedule so instruction would end prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. As a result, NTU’s semester will begin on Aug. 10 and conclude after 15 weeks. Additional measures are being implemented by each of NTU’s five locations, including temperature and health screen checks and mandatory mask requirements. Internet hotspots are available at NTU’s Crownpoint, Chinle, and Zuni sites, and a computing device check out system is at the disposal of students.

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