Today U.S. Congressman John Salazar announced the introduction of legislation to aide Fort Lewis College with Native American tuition reimbursement.
Due to a 1910 federal mandate as part of the original land grant, Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado is required to provide a tuition-free education to all qualifying Native American students. Without federal legislative action, the long term viability of this program could be in jeopardy.
In the past 25 years alone, the State of Colorado has expended over $110 million for the Native American tuition waiver program, repaying the original land grant valued today at less than $19 million many times over. Last year, Colorado paid about $10 million in tuition reimbursement for Native American students from 30 different states. In recent years, Fort Lewis College has faced the threat of significant funding cuts that would severely impair its ability to sustain this critical program.
"After 100 years, it is time to step up and reverse this unfunded mandate and preserve this valuable program for future generations of students," said Congressman John Salazar, the bill's author in the House of Representatives. "Even if you value the land Fort Lewis College received in present dollars, the State of Colorado has far exceeded its obligation to the federal government and we now need assistance to meet the financial responsibility of the federal mandate."
Last year, Fort Lewis College had 758 Native American students, from 95 different congressional districts and 122 tribal governments. In just the last 10 years, Native students have come to Fort Lewis College from 44 states and 185 congressional districts.
Dr. Dene Kay Thomas, President of Fort Lewis College, said, "FLC is very grateful to Congressman Salazar for recognizing and responding to the need to ensure continued funding of the Native American tuition waiver."
Representatives Markey, Polis, Coffman, Perlmutter, and DeGette of Colorado and Representative Lujan of New Mexico joined Salazar to cosponsor the legislation.