Dechinta, an N.W.T. land-based learning centre, is one step closer to becoming a degree-granting institution.

On Tuesday the Department of Education, Culture and Employment said it's working on legislation that would allow Dechinta to grant degrees.

"We will be the first degree-granting circumpolar university in Canada," said Erin Freeland Ballantyne, Dechinta's dean of land-based academics, research and innovation.

The school, located on Blatchford Lake about 100 kilometres east of Yellowknife, currently offers credits for individual courses and a minor in indigenous studies in partnership with other universities.

"We'll now be able to accept degree stream students and by 2019 we'll have our first northern graduating class," said Freeland Ballantyne, who's been lobbying the government for five years.

Dechinta is also seeking guaranteed core funding instead of having to apply to the department for money every year.

"Right now, semester to semester, we don't know if we have funding," said Freeland Ballantyne.

"So students are sort of in a place where if they can, they continue on with us, but they have to make plans to go down south if they can't."

Kieron Testart, the MLA for Yellowknife's Kam Lake constituency, says he supports the idea of allotting $5 million to Dechinta from the approximately $33 million annual budget for Aurora College (including the Aurora Research Institute).

"They need our support so they can keep doing work," he said.

The department says it could present the degree-granting legislation to MLAs as early as next spring.

The legislation would also apply to Yellowknife-based College Nordique, which offers French language courses to federal and territorial government employees plus evening courses for the public.