Native American Rights Fund Supports Native Tuition Bill

Carol Berry
4/23/11

BOULDER, Colo.—Citing the importance of an Indian tuition waiver, the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) believes in federal funding for the instruction fees for non-resident Native students at a Colorado liberal arts college.

Budget-conscious Colorado has considered a lower reimbursement rate for the payment of non-resident Native students’ tuition at Fort Lewis College in the southwestern part of the state. The estimated annual cost of the out-of-state Indian students’ reimbursement is approximately $10 million, with in-state reimbursement about a third of that amount.

U.S. Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, both Colorado Democrats, introduced legislation that would reimburse the cost of out-of-state Native students’ tuition while Colorado would continue to pay the tuition of Native residents. Both tuition payments are mandated under a 1910 treaty-related federal agreement.

Under the bill, the Secretary of Education would pay the college an amount equal to the tuition charges for the Native non-resident students.

NARF “having been involved in the litigation in the 1970s enforcing the Indian tuition waiver, is aware of the importance of the Indian tuition waiver to Indian students across the country and the outstanding record of Fort Lewis College in graduating Indian students over the years,” said John E. Echohawk, NARF executive director, in an April 20 letter of support.

NARF is in “full support” of the legislation and “hopes that it is passed by Congress and signed by the president as soon as possible,” he said, because the bill would “ensure that the Indian tuition waiver continues.”

Some Native students at the college were concerned that the legislation might cap the number of non-resident Indian students receiving free tuition at 2010 levels.

Last year the college provided tuition for about 750 Native students from 122 tribal nations in 30 states, according to similar legislation proposed by then-U.S. Rep. John Salazar, and those students comprised about 20 percent of the college’s total enrollment.

In 2009, the college awarded science and math-related degrees to 95 Indian students, equal to 13.5 percent of the total number of degrees awarded to Indian students in the nation that year.

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