PIERRE | Black Hills State University wants to offer South Dakota’s first master's degree in Native American studies.

The state Board of Regents will decide in the coming days whether Black Hills State can start to plan the program.

The master's program would start in the fall of 2017 and mainly be available online.

The preliminary documents provided to the regents show Black Hills State would offer a two-track approach in the Native American studies master's program. One track would focus on tribal leadership and governance, the other track would concentrate on American Indian education.

BHSU Provost Rodney Custer said the specific classes will not be known until after the regents green light the program.

Enrollment is estimated to be 10 to 12 students per year. BHSU President Tom Jackson Jr. said the idea for the program came about in response to interest expressed from the student body, 10 percent of which is Native American in Rapid City.

Black Hills State planners expect demand for master's-level students would come from education institutions including tribal colleges and universities, government agencies and centers for research and policy.

Courses would most likely be taught by a combination of existing staff and newly hired instructors, Jackson said.

The university already offers at the bachelor's-degree level a major and a minor in Native American studies, so Jackson thinks the master's program would fit well.

“BHSU, throughout its history, has always been focused on providing degrees that really meet the needs of this region,” Jackson said. “It was just a matter of time that we could put together a program that would better serve our native students at the master's level.

The regents, who govern the state universities, meet next Thursday and Friday in Rapid City at South Dakota School of Mines & Technology. One of the regents’ goals is increasing the numbers of Native American students attending the state universities and graduating.

“We’re excited about it,” Custer said. “This is something that’s been in the works for several years, and we’re looking forward to launching this program and providing this to the region.”

BHSU is based in Spearfish and also manages the university center campus in Rapid City. During the past year the school was placed in the lead role for South Dakota’s GEAR UP program.

That came after the state Department of Education terminated its contract with Mid-Central Educational Cooperative.

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GEAR UP, which is federally funded, helps high school students from lower-income families, primarily in Indian country, better understand what is necessary for higher education after high school graduation.

Black Hills State currently offers seven master's degree programs. They gradually have been added since 2001.

The university’s minor in Native American studies started in 1974. The major began in 1997.

The University of South Dakota offers a certificate in Native American education.

Among neighboring states a few institutions have programs.

University of Minnesota-Duluth offers a master of tribal administration and governance. Montana State University at Bozeman has a master's in Native American studies.

The University of Wyoming has a graduate minor in Native American studies. North Dakota doesn’t offer a program.

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