Efforts to Protect the Native American Tuition Waiver

An Introduction to Federal Efforts to Protect the Native American Tuition Waiver

Senator Michael Bennet, FLC Director of Sponsored Research and Federal Relations Angie Rochat, FLC President Dene Kay Thomas (holding Senate Bill 484), Senator Mark Udall, and former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell
Senator Michael Bennet, FLC Director of Sponsored Research and Federal Relations Angie Rochat, FLC President Dene Kay Thomas (holding Senate Bill 484), Senator Mark Udall, and former Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell

On April 22, 2013, U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, introduced federal legislation that will help ensure that the Native American Tuition Waiver at Fort Lewis College will continue into the future. The waiver offers a tuition-free education at Fort Lewis College and is available to any student from a federally-recognized tribe.

The goal of both bills (S. 765 and H.R. 1658) is to "help fulfill the Federal mandate to provide higher educational opportunities for Native American Indians." Currently there are two colleges in the United States that offer tuition waivers to members of any federally-recognized Native American tribe: Fort Lewis College and the University of Minnesota-Morris. The bills will offer federal funding to help these two schools maintain their tuition waiver programs.

Currently Colorado is responsible for paying the full cost of the tuition waiver for both resident and non-resident Native American students. In 2012, 801 out of the 943 Native American students receiving the tuition waiver at FLC were non-residents.

As the success of the program grew over the years, the cost of the tuition waiver to Colorado also grew. The threat that the waiver would be reduced or eliminated by the State Legislature increased. Indeed, State House Bill 10-1067 was introduced in early 2010 and would have reduced the amount that the state reimbursed the College for the waiver by almost $2 million dollars. The bill was withdrawn from consideration.

The current federal legislation specifies that the amount of the federal government’s funding assistance will be capped at the cost of the tuition waiver for non-resident Native American students at FLC for the year the legislation is enacted. This does not mean that the number of Native American students who can take advantage of the waiver is capped. If the cost of the waiver rises above the amount set forth in the bill in future years, the state of Colorado will be responsible for that funding.

In a sense, the Native American Tuition Waiver program at Fort Lewis College has become a national program. In 2012, the top five tribes with the highest number of students enrolled at FLC, which were not from Colorado, are the following: Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Tlingit/Haida, and Chickasaw.

"Educating Native American students at Fort Lewis College has been a highly successful endeavor," says FLC President Dene Kay Thomas. "Fort Lewis is a Native American-Serving, Non-Tribal institution (one of only 13 in the country) and it graduates more Native Americans with bachelor’s degrees than any other four-year school. Increasing the educational level of Native Americans has been successful, beneficial to Colorado, and the entire country. It is right that the country shares in this Colorado responsibility and continues the good work with Native American students that has been going on at Fort Lewis College for the last 100 years."