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Brigham Young University officials are investigating the possibility of establishing a program to mainstream American Indian students into BYU classrooms.

American Indian leaders said, if implemented, the program could supersede other programs.For the past year, Utah's American Indian leaders have had their eyes on Brigham Young University's administration, waiting for them to respond to recommendations for an American Indian education program submitted last year at a BYU Native American Leadership Conference.

But BYU officials are only considering the conference's recommendations as a small part of the complete American Indian program at BYU. Officials said that what BYU is really looking into is a bridging program that will involve articulation agreements with smaller colleges in at least three states, including Utah.

Bruce Chadwick, chairman of the advisory board's Native American education report, said the bridging program would eventually mainstream American Indian students into BYU classrooms.

"The idea is to get a year's experience at places like Snow College, the College of Eastern Utah, Dixie College, Ricks College and some of these other two-year schools, then, for those that prove themselves, bring them to BYU," Chadwick said.

The program would be very similar to an existing articulation agreement between BYU and Dixie College.

Although it is too early to tell what will actually come of the university's investigations, Stan L. Albrecht, academic vice president at BYU, said it is time for BYU to recognize its American Indian population.

"When BYU had a separate (American Indian) program it did not do a very good job of preparing students to walk into the classroom," Albrecht said.

The university is preparing to "substantially increase the involvement of Native American education. Traditionally, we have had a strong homogeneous population at BYU, and we have not effectively served the growing heterogeneous population of the church," he said.

Wil Numkena, director for the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, said Utah needs programs like the one proposed by BYU.

"Insofar as Indian students entering into college right out of high school, I hope they consider going to a smaller institution of higher education prior to going to a major university," Numkena said. The students tend to become just another number at larger institutions.

"There have been cases where many Indian students have fallen through the cracks because they didn't receive the support and individual attention when they were at the brink of failing out of a class - which eventually leads to them dropping out of college altogether," he said.

"Institutes of higher learning need to be points where the seeds are planted for developing American Indian leadership," Numkena said. But he said all of Utah's higher education system stops short of implementing programs to help Utah's American Indian students.

He said that specially designated federal money is available to develop leadership programs for American Indians, but schools don't take the time or effort to apply.

Augustine Trujillo, director of the University of Utah's Center for Ethnic Student Affairs, said the university has applied for federal money in the past, but competition with other states is tight and programs are not ensured funds for more than one year at a time.

"Just because you receive funding this year, does not mean you'll get it again the next," he said.

As a result, the U. has American Indian support programs in some departments but nothing that runs through the entire school system.

"I think there are certain departments that can be doing more, but we have programs, like the engineering department and so forth, that are on the lookout for higher education funds," Trujillo said. "We even have an office set up to attract students when we finally get the funding."