Story at a glance
- The University of California school system will begin offering free tuition and fees to California residents who are members of federally recognized tribes.
- There are currently 109 federally recognized tribes in California, home to more people of Native American and Alaska Native heritage than any other state in the country.
- For the past decade, Native American students made up less than 1 percent of the university’s total enrollment.
Native Americans who reside in California will soon be eligible for free tuition at the University of California school system, a critical announcement that comes as the country is in a heated debate over the student debt crisis.
In a letter to university chancellors, University of California president Michael V. Drake announced that starting in the fall semester, California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes will be eligible for full-ride scholarships.
The decision comes as part of the formal launch of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, a program intended to make the school system more diverse and more affordable to Native American undergraduate and graduate students.
It costs about $38,504 to attend a UC school annually for in-state students in the current 2022-2023 school year, with tuition at $13,104, and additional campus fees, books, health insurance, housing and transportation costs included.
Notably, the UC Native American Opportunity Plan could also help alleviate future students from taking on student debt, a crisis currently rocking the country and prompting President Biden to move forward with some form of student debt forgiveness. Biden previously campaigned on forgiving at least $10,000 in federal student loans per borrower, but has yet to take any action on the issue since assuming office.
Offering free tuition would also allow Native American students to bypass the rising cost of attending college, with an analysis by Georgetown University finding between 1980 and 2019 college fees rose by 169 percent, while wages for young workers aged 22 to 27 went up by only 19 percent over the same period.
The university’s announcement is also significant given California is home to more people of Native American and Alaska Native heritage than any other state in the country. There are currently 109 federally recognized Indian tribes in the state.
There are also several non-federally recognized tribes currently petitioning for federal recognition.
However, Native Americans made up less than 1 percent of the UC school system’s student enrollment in Fall 2021 and have consistently done so for the past decade.
“The University of California is committed to recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans. I am proud of the efforts the university has made to support the Native American community, including the creation of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan,” said Drake.
A report compiled by UC Davis’ Strategic Native American Retention Initiative found that in the 2017-2018 school year, about 2,200 American Indian/Alaskan Native students graduated from a California high school, with only 708 meeting UC college requirements. Of those students, 294 enrolled in UC.
In comparison, about 418,000 students graduated from a California high school that same school year and 208,769 met UC college requirements.
Native American students are only 0.5 percent of the total population of California’s high school students and make up only 0.3 percent of the total population who met UC college requirements.
The report explained that challenges Native American students face are complex, as many are from first-generation families and low college-going communities, often plagued with high crime and drug rates and few resources to support educational success.
The UC school system hopes its plan to offer free tuition to Native American students in California will entice more to pursue a higher education.
“We hope that the number of students benefiting from the plan will grow in future years as more Native American students choose to apply to UC and accept our offers of admission,” Shawn Brick, UC’s executive director of student financial support, said in a statement.
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