Kayla Aguirre, a student at the University of Denver, didn’t know if she could afford her final year of college. She is a full-time student, and she and her husband had difficulty applying for just one income. But she recently learned that she – and all Native American students at the institution – will cover tuition and fees from now on, starting next fall.
She described the news as “life-changing” for her and her peers. The new grant program will cover all tuition costs that are not covered by state or federal financial aid for Colorado residents belonging to federally recognized tribal nations. It will also waive tuition fees for students from other states that are members of tribes historically based in Colorado.
“Indigenous people have been forced to give up their land, their children and their lives, all for unfulfilled promises,” said Aguirre, a political scientist majoring in Chickasaw Nation and vice president of the University’s Indigenous and Indigenous Students Alliance. “They were trying to steal our future, so this is the first step in a long walk towards correcting the past.”
Similar tuition waiver programs, targeted at Indian students, are appearing across the country ahead of the fall semester. These initiatives emerge after indigenous communities across the country have clashed stunning rates of COVID-19 infection as well as deaths and related financial losses during the pandemic – all of which have revealed serious economic difficulties and disparities in health and education faced tribal communities and exacerbated by a pandemic.
Will Simpkins, vice president of student affairs at MSU Denver, said the university enrolls an average of 70 to 100 Native American students each year. In the fall of 2020, there were 91 students from the indigenous population, which is 0.5 percent of the total number of students. data from the university. He hopes the new program will help “repel students who may have stopped because of the pandemic,” and increase the number of Indian students enrolled. The program is expected to cost about $ 200,000 in the first year.
“The university says,‘ That’s right, ’and there are direct costs to doing the right things,” he said. “It’s an investment in our students and our communities.”
University of California system president Michael Drake announced in April that all California residents belonging to federally recognized tribes could earn a bachelor’s or master’s degree in the UC system with full tuition coverage. The $ 2.4 million initiative is expected to launch next fall. Funding will also be available to students from tribes that are not recognized as federal but will be provided through private scholarship funds because the university system prohibited by state law to provide financial assistance based on race or ethnicity; however, it may offer assistance to members of other countries or sovereign nations.
The program will “promote critical efforts to expand student diversity and make the University of California more accessible and accessible to California undergraduate and graduate students,” Drake said. wrote in a letter to campus chancellors. “The University of California is committed to acknowledging and acknowledging the historical grievances suffered by Native Americans.”
State lawmakers also seem to be paying attention again to the financial barriers faced by Indian students. A recent Colorado law provides in-state training to Native American students from tribes that have historically taken root in the state, regardless of whether they were Colorado residents. Oregon has also launched a new grant program, proposed by Gov. Kate Brown, for the 2022-23 school year. The program covers tuition, housing, and books at government institutions for undergraduate and graduate students belonging to nine federally recognized tribes of Oregon after they apply for federal or state financial aid. Grants can also be used to pay for tuition at some local private universities up to the amount of the average cost of attending Oregon public universities.
“For too long, because of disparities caused by systemic barriers, too few tribal students have had access to higher education,” Brown said in a press release. “This grant program is a great step forward that will serve as a model for the rest of the nation, help correct historical grievances and have a major impact on the future of Oregon tribal students and our dynamic tribal communities.”
The grant program “removes one of the most serious barriers to college success for the underserved,” said Juan Baes-Arevala, director of the Oregon Coordinating Commission’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, in a release. . . “We are honored to work in consultation with the Oregon Tribes to create equal opportunities for college learning and to support the talents and promising future of the tribe’s students, their families and communities.”
Native American leaders and scholars say the high cost of college tuition has long been a barrier for Native American students who disproportionately come from low-income families.
U.S. Census Bureau data found that Native Americans and Alaska Natives have the highest poverty rates among any racial or ethnic group in the country: in 2019, 23 percent of Americans lived below the poverty line. Only 24 percent of Native Americans and Alaska Natives between the ages of 18 and 24 were enrolled in college that year, compared with 41 percent of other Americans in that age group. In 2019, only a quarter of Native Americans over the age of 25 had an associate’s degree or higher, while 42 percent of non-Native Americans in that age group were the highest, according to the data. Institute of National Higher Education Policy.
Kerry Billy, president and CEO of the American Indian Higher Education Consortium, said a recent survey of tribal college students found that “No. One of the factors that forces students to drop out of college, not go to college, or think about leaving college is financial problems. ” She noted that tribal colleges deliberately keep tuition costs low because nearly 80 percent of students are eligible for the Pell Grant, a federal financial aid for low-income students but students still can’t pay.
Some agencies have set up tuition waiver programs for Indians that preceded the recent wave. For example, Fort Lewis College in Colorado and the University of Minnesota in Maurice have historically been boarding schools for Indians. In the early 1900s, the federal government provided that both institutions would be free for Native American students.
Magelle Boxer, chair and associate professor of Indian and Indigenous Studies at Fort Lewis College, said the rate of reduction in college tuition costs for Indian students is growing. She believes the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada, which reviewed the country’s controversial system of Indian boarding schools, helped start a social reckoning in North America with how educational institutions have historically beaten students off Indians. U.S. Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold the post, announced a similar initiative last year to study the troubling history of federal boarding schools.
The waiver of tuition fees is also a response to propaganda from politically active members of the tribe, Billy said. The level of American Indian college enrollment and graduation remains low, however they have increased over the past decade, and as more and more tribesmen receive academic degrees, she sees more and more indigenous graduates going into local and state politics and calling for more accessible education for their communities. According to the Institute for National Higher Education Policy, between 2010 and 2019, the percentage of Native Americans who received a junior degree or higher increased from 21 to 25 percent from 2010 to 2019. It also views the waiver of tuition fees for Native American students as a product of the racial calculation that followed the assassination of George Floyd.
Politicians and campus leaders are “more aware of Native Americans, people of color and their invisibility in the past and lack of intent,” she said.
The trend may also be the result land recognition movement in the top edition, said Simpkins of MSU Denver. University leaders have become accustomed to recognizing the tribes that previously occupied the land on which their campuses are located, but college officials and Native American teachers are beginning to ask what “actions” should be followed by land recognition applications.
“The recognition of the land we make at most of our great events is a critical aspect of honoring the past,” Simpkins said. “This is an investment in the future. This is an action we can take. “
However, he noted that the details of grant programs targeted at Indian students need to be refined over time and should be carefully designed involving tribal leaders. For example, he is trying to figure out how a university can offer support to Native American students who are not yet official members of their tribes and have to apply for membership after the student has told him how difficult the process can be.
Billy said policymakers offering government financial aid programs for Indian students should make sure tribal colleges are included in the number of institutions that Native American students can attend for free, and make sure those institutions can afford to attend. Presidents of tribal colleges in Michigan told her that the state’s waiver program for Indian students requires colleges to partially pay the bills, which is an expensive venture in resource-lacking institutions where most students claim waivers.
“They seek to serve their students and help their students,” so when programs are not fully funded by the state or other sources, tribal colleges “just absorb that loss,” she said.
Aguirre is hoping for the potential long-term ripple effects of Denver’s MSU program. She is not only excited about what the program will do for her, but also about what she can do for her family. She said her two sisters are now considering visiting the institution because of her grant program.
“They are talking about agreeing to come here to school,” she said. “So it’s definitely already having an impact.”