Top University Announces Free Tuition For Native Americans

By Erika Hanson | Published

Native Americans

It has been quite the year for colleges and universities looking to atone for their organization’s role in past racial inequities. Harvard just releases an extensive report on the ivy league school’s extensive history in slavery. They even pledged to spend $100 million to support the ancestors of Black and Indigenous slaves that were associated with the school. Following that suit, another top university recently announced a pledge to cover tuition expenses for Native Americans, as the University of California (UC) prepares to roll out the new initiative next year to make amends for the nation’s past actions.

The Sacramento Bee reported on a letter that was set out by UC President Michael Drake to the university’s chancellors. Within the letter, Drake announced that the university system would fully cover tuition for California residents who are from federally recognized Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native tribes. In writing, Drake stated the UC is “committed to recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans.”

Native Americans

According to data from US News, California has some of the highest populations of American Indians in the nation. There are currently 110 various federally recognized tribes within the state, and they make up a population of over 630,000 people or about 3.57% of California’s residents. However, less than 1% of UC’s total student body identifies as Native American. 

The initiative will be funded through state and university financial aid. Next year, the average in-state tuition for UC will sit around $13,000. The California Globe estimated that this Native American tuition endeavor will cost roughly $9.5 million a year of taxpayer dollars. The site based this figure on this year’s enrollment date on American Indians at UC enrolled in both undergraduate and graduate programs. 

The decision was hailed by many of the state’s Native American tribes. Jack Locklear, an American Indian from Northern California who spoke with the Globe shows his approval for the program. “For a long time, Native Americans and other AIAN peoples have been barred from so many things or were limited in what they can do. This program helps correct that. Free education is so important here.” Locklear said. But not everyone is on board with the concept, and some feel that it is a means to promote inclusivity by creating more bias and preference for one group.

Native Americans

Paris Morris, an academic advisor to high school students specializing in top university placement told the Globe she is against the act. Morris thinks initiatives like this fail all the students who don’t qualify under the Native American tuition act because they fall “under the wire” when applying for scholarships despite having the grades. Furthermore, Morris said  “This program ignores students who pushed themselves to get top grades, who contributed to their community, or did great things athletically for these scholarships. Yes, Native Americans have been a historically oppressed group, but this is the 2020’s. We need to look at individuals and how they fare.”

Morris and other supporters pointed to affirmative action, or the practice in which policies look to favor certain groups that have been discriminated against in the past. Currently, this practice is under extreme scrutiny in the United States, and the supreme court is even set to here a major case regarding Harvard University and the University of North Carolina. Both universities are claimed to show racial bias when approving applicants. Furthermore, those against the decision ask where the line is drawn for who can apply. “Are half-Native Americans included? Those who are a quarter? These are questions that really need to be answered,” Morris said. 

Despite torn stances, all Native American’s wishing to enroll at UC next year will receive their schooling for free. The university follows in line with similar initiatives seen across other states in America. The University of Minnesota similarly offers tuition waivers for Native Americans, as do all state colleges and universities within the state of Montana.