Via Indian Country Today: Free College Tuition For Natives Threatened by Budget Knife

An excerpt:

Before he even considered going to college, Byron Tsabetsaye ruled it out.

While attending high school on the Navajo Nation, Tsabetsaye didn’t know anything about college applications, financial aid or selecting a major. An average student, Tsabetsaye said his teachers didn’t expect him to go to college, so he didn’t either.

“As a student on the reservation, it was hard to find support in terms of people encouraging me to go to college or telling me how to get there,” he said. “There just wasn’t the expectation, and so I limited myself and my views on higher education. I ruled it out because I thought my parents couldn’t afford it.”

Yet Tsabetsaye, the son of a homemaker and a Navajo Housing Authority employee, was destined for something greater. He was poised to become a first-generation college graduate, but he didn’t know where to start.

Then a friend introduced him to Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado.

Fort Lewis awards more bachelor’s degrees to Natives than any other college or university in the United States. Only one other institution, the University of Minnesota, Morris, offers free tuition to Native students.

Byron Tsabetsaye, a 2013 graduate of Fort Lewis College, is Navajo and Zuni. (Fort Lewis College)
Byron Tsabetsaye, a 2013 graduate of Fort Lewis College, is Navajo and Zuni. (Fort Lewis College)

Tsabetsaye enrolled and excelled. He served as student body president before graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English in 2013. He finished a Master of Arts degree in higher education and student affairs this spring at New York University, but he attributes his success to Fort Lewis.

“Looking back at myself, it seems almost impossible that I didn’t know about college opportunities,” he said. “At Fort Lewis College, it’s not just a tuition waiver but an opportunity for Natives to go to college.”

Fort Lewis offers bachelor’s degrees in 30 disciplines, including programs in science, technology and math, and it boasts more than 80 registered student organizations. With 162 tribes represented—including several from Alaska—it’s in the running for most diverse campus in the nation.

But this small liberal arts college perched atop a hill overlooking Durango is becoming a source of controversy for Colorado as the annual tuition tab increases. More than 1,100 Native students enrolled last year, comprising 30 percent of the total student population—and placing an unprecedented financial strain on the state.

Colorado last year paid 6 million in tuition for Native students at Fort Lewis, with 5 million of that for out-of-state students. The growing bill pits a century-old charter against contemporary questions of who should foot the bill.

To read the entire article, click here.

 

Tipton Reintroduces Bill to Provide Certainty for Native American Indian Students

Here, from BBNA.  An excerpt:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 — Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo. (3rd CD), issued the following news release:

Congressman Scott Tipton (R-CO) has reintroduced legislation in the House of Representatives to help Fort Lewis College and the State of Colorado cover tuition costs of qualifying Native American Indian students who receive federally-mandated free tuition at the college under a 1910 federal land grant. Tipton delivered the legislation today accompanied by Fort Lewis College President Dene Thomas and former United States Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell.

The Native American Indian Education Act would require the federal government to meet treaty obligations to help cover the tuition costs for out-of-state students. Currently, the State of Colorado has been left to cover the expense, which has significantly increased in recent years and is jeopardizing the future of the important program. The University of Minnesota, Morris has a similar mandate and would benefit from this legislation.

“The State of Colorado is currently forced to carry the weight of an unfunded federal mandate, which has created uncertainty for this vital program at Fort Lewis College that satisfies our nation’s treaty obligations and ensures that many talented and bright Native American Indian students have the opportunity to get a quality education,” Tipton said. “Should the state face a budget shortfall, this program could be at risk. Our legislation seeks to address this issue by requiring the federal government to fully live up to its obligation, easing the burden on Colorado taxpayers, and providing certainty for students at Fort Lewis and other impacted institutions.”

The bill, H.R. 1089 – To help fulfill the Federal mandate to provide higher education opportunities for Native Americans, can be seen here when it is posted.