Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today held a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) at the Colorado State Capitol to highlight the need for legislation that will help preserve opportunities for Native American students to attend college.
"In just the last 11 years, the Fort Lewis Native American Scholarship Fund has provided tuition waivers for 16,408 students from 46 states representing 269 tribes. Fort Lewis awards more undergraduate degrees to Native American students than any other four year institution in the nation," Bennet said. "The question before us today is not whether or not the tuition waiver programs should continue. The waivers clearly should continue and all of us engaged in this issue are deeply committed to that. The question we face is how we can equitably share the responsibilities for these programs to ensure they thrive and that educational opportunities for Native American youth can continue to grow."
Colorado is home to Fort Lewis College, one of two four-year universities that have participated in land-grant agreements between the federal government and Native American tribes. Part of those agreements stipulates that the university must provide a tuition-free education to Native American students.
The State of Minnesota has a similar program through the University of Minnesota, Morris.
Because of those agreements, the states are required to cover the full cost of the tuition reimbursements with no assistance from the federal government. In Colorado, the burden of the payments on the state has increased exponentially over the years, especially as an increasing number of out-of-state students choose to attend Fort Lewis College. In the past 25 years alone, the State of Colorado has spent over $110 million for the tuition waiver program, repaying the original land grant valued today at less than $19 million many times over.
Bennet has introduced a bill that would require the U.S. Department of Education to cover the costs of tuition waivers for any out-of-state students, while states would continue to pay for any in-state tuition waivers. This would help significantly alleviate the burden on the education budget for each state.