Native Tuition Reimbursement May Change

Carol Berry
2/18/11

In the wake of Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper’s decision February 16 to cut additional funds for higher education, Native students at Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado are wondering if their free tuition will be affected.

Hickenlooper announced that he would cut an additional $36 million from state higher education funds, for a $125 million net decrease from the current year because of federal stimulus funds that will not be replaced.

The state’s lieutenant governor, Joe Garcia, heads both the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Commission of Indian Affairs. He recently said the state’s reimbursement of the American Indian students’ tuition would remain an issue because of its impact on taxpayers statewide.

Last year at this time, state lawmakers targeted a state funding formula for some Native students receiving free tuition at Fort Lewis College, a former Indian boarding school, where the state reimbursement rate for their tuition came under fire as a cash-strapped state looked for any corners to cut.

Proposed by the state—and later withdrawn—was a cut of $3,000 in its reimbursement rate to the college for 2011 tuition for out-of-state Native students, constituting a $1.8 million reduction, which was to have been coupled with a proposed overall cut to the college of about $4 million.

Fort Lewis sets out-of-state tuition at about $16,000, but the average out-of-state tuition in Colorado is approximately $13,000.  In 2009, the state paid just over $16,000 each in out-of-state tuition for 633 Native students for a total of $10 million, while $3,000 each was assessed for in-state tuition for 120 Native students, totaling $360,000.

Garcia said out-of-state reimbursement rates for Native tuition constitute an issue that “will continue to come up” as Colorado faces shrinking revenues and increasing costs.

Still pending—and possibly awaiting a Student Senate endorsement—is a bill proposed last year by former U. S. Rep. John Salazar which would use federal funds for Native non-resident student tuition. U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, introduced legislation in support of Salazar’s bill.

The bill as introduced would limit future federal tuition reimbursement because the dollar amount to the college “may not exceed an amount equal to charges for tuition for all Indian students who were not residents of the state of Colorado and who were enrolled in (the college) for academic year 2009-10.”

By law, the former Indian boarding school was to be “maintained by the state as an institution of higher learning to which Indian students will be admitted free of tuition and on an equality with white students.” A federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling against the Colorado legislature, which attempted in 1971 to limit tuition waivers to Indian students who were Colorado residents.

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