A 2013 report by the American College Testing organization indicated that 86 percent of Native American high graduates who took the ACT want to go to college. Still, Native Americans represent the smallest underrepresented group of students attending college in the U.S. In an effort to provide greater access and opportunity for Native Americans to pursue higher education, a host of public and private funding programs are in place. Although requirements vary, securing documentation verifying you’re Native American and tribally affiliated is an important first step.
The Bureau of Indian Education provides a higher education grant program that provides financial assistance for American Indian students demonstrating financial need. Students who are a minimum of one-quarter degree Native American, members of an American Indian tribe and attending a nationally accredited college or university are eligible to apply. Grants are available for post-secondary education at the undergraduate and graduate levels. A one-time application fee of $15 is required and applications are available through most tribal offices or from a Bureau of Indian Education officer. Similar scholarship opportunities are available through the American Indian College Fund.
Many Native American tribes offer support for members to attend college. Participating tribes have unique eligibility requirements, so seeking information well in advance will improve your changes of funding. For example, the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community in Minnesota provides funding opportunities for members, but requires students to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and the Minnesota Indian State Grant before tribal support will be awarded.
Check with your home state for college tuition programs specifically designed for Native American students. Most participating states require that students show proof of residency and are tribally enrolled. For example, American Indian students in Massachusetts are eligible for tuition waivers for state universities. This is also the case for Native American students in Montana and Michigan. Other states have in-state tuition programs for American Indian students.
College Specific Tuition Programs
Several colleges and universities have special tuition-free or reduced tuition programs for Native American students. For example, Fort Lewis College in Colorado provides a tuition waiver for any student who is a member of a recognized tribe in North America. A similar program is available at the University of Minnesota, Morris. Some post-secondary institutions offer reduced tuition or in-state tuition programs for American Indian students. For example, state universities in Oklahoma, California, Iowa, Utah and Washington offer in-state tuition for tribal enrollees.
Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.