DENVER, Colorado — A new law allows Native American students across the U.S. to pay in-state college tuition in Colorado. Advocates of the new law hope to spread this practice and increase Native American students in higher education.
According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, as of 2020, only 19 percent of Native Americans ages 18 to 24 enrolled in college.
According to the Census Bureau, only 14.5 percent of the indigenous population have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, which is why advocates have been calling for change.
“There are very limited college opportunities for education where many Native Americans are,” said Andrew Cowell, an indigenous study professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. “If you’re on a reservation in central South Dakota, there are no colleges nearby to go to, or there weren’t historically. Native Americans would often prefer to stay home or don’t have the financial resources to go out of state or pay for dormitories or live a life at home.
“The burden isn’t when you’re at school, it carries on,” said Tiffany Guspeth, who works for the American Indian College Fund. “I’ve been out of college for many years now, and I’m still paying for that college education.
Colorado recently passed a law allowing Native Americans across the country to receive in-state tuition at Colorado universities. The benefit applies to 48 American Indian tribes.
“The pandemic has really laid out the inequities that we have with our tribal nations,” said Leslie Smith, who is a member of the board of regents at the University of Colorado and one of the main advocates pushing for the new law. “I was focused on our state, I didn’t know how this would roll out and I didn’t think it would have an impact so quickly, but people were paying attention and took us up on our bill and our offer.”
According to the Colorado Sun, about 200 Native American students enrolled in state colleges and universities should see their annual tuition slashed by about $15,000 this year under the new law.
“My education experience is very similar to those we serve,” Guspeth said.
Guspeth is the senior director of student success services at the American Indian College Fund. The organization helps Native American students get more financial access to college.
“This is what we like to see, financial access,” Guspeth said. “Access just gets people in the door, but that’s not just what these students need. They need a healthy and welcoming environment.”
While this law can encourage more Native American students to attend college, Cowell hopes this law can also benefit institutions with more indigenous students.
“What kind of education do you get with a student body that is 90% white?” Cowell asked. “The figures have changed over the years, but that’s not the same education you get when you have multiple Native American students in your class who can talk about their own personal experience, and their own background and experiences. That is was enriches that class for every single person in it."
According to Native Youth to College, Colorado joins 12 other states that offer some type of tuition break for Native Americans.
The rules vary, but the goal is the same: to increase the number of Native American student attendance.