The University of Wyoming has seen a serious decline in enrollment of Native American students. The new university president set a goal to reverse that, opening a Native American Center and hired a Native American program advisor to make the campus more welcoming. And those efforts are working. But now there isn’t enough money to fund all the interested students applying.
Northern Arapaho Chairman Roy Brown said part of that is because his tribe is growing quickly: 10,300 members strong. And he said, 40 percent of those members are kids.
“About 4,000 of our members are under the age of 18 and are going to be looking at opportunities for post-secondary education,”
Brown said education has always been valuable to the tribe and that’s why, back in the late 80’s, the tribe established a $1 million endowment that has now appreciated to $2.27 million. Usually each year a handful of students are eligible for the endowment scholarship.
“This school year, we actually had 14 students that qualified for this endowment scholarship, which is about two or three times more than we typically see.”
Brown said that prompted the Northern Arapaho business council to start brainstorming how they could make sure all those kids have funding to attend college.
“And one of the ways that we’re exploring is starting a dialogue with the Board of Trustees to get tuition waivers for our tribal members.”
A tribal tuition waiver is not a novel idea. Eastern Shoshone member James Trosper is the director of the new Native American Education, Research, and Cultural Center that opened on campus this fall. He says lots of states already offer tuitionwaivers or discounts for tribal members.
“Fort Lewis is probably the most notable. There are several other colleges in Colorado that also do something similar, CSU has an agreement. Montana is another state.
Michigan, North Dakota, Maine, Idaho and others offer some type of special tuition aid, as well. Trosper said these states often offer them as a way to acknowledge broken treaty agreements. Trosper said the same should go for the University of Wyoming.
“Most of the universities have agreements with tribes who had previously owned the land where those universities are now built,” he said. “And this is a good example of an agreement that could be made because this land where the University of Wyoming sits once belonged to the Arapaho.
In fact, Trosper said, the entire southeast corner of Wyoming was originally granted to the Northern Arapaho in the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1851.
In mid-January, Trosper and Northern Arapaho Chairman Roy Brown and others made this argument to the UW Board of Trustees. Eventually, they’ll be the body in charge of making the decision. In a Laramie Boomerang article, Trustee President John MacPherson said, “This is kind of a slippery slope because if we do it for your tribe, then do we have to do it for the other tribe and if we do it, then do we have to start doing it for other organizations, other people?”
“Honestly, I have mixed emotions about it,” said UW President Laurie Nichols. “On one level, I’d love to do it because I would love for tribal members from Wyoming to feel like they have access to a higher education and finances are not a barrier for them.” But Nichols said, the university’s budget is tight after a severe downturn in Wyoming’s energy industry. “Part of what we’ve really not done yet is really a financial analysis, is just to take a look at how many tribal members do we have attending the university and if we gave some kind of a waiver or discount, what would be the financial impact of that and could we handle it?”
Northern Arapaho Chairman Brown said, currently there are eleven Arapaho students at UW but ten times as many attending other colleges, some in Wyoming but many elsewhere. He said, the tribe would like to think of UW as its homeschool.
“The tribe as a whole recognizes the value of education in just about every aspect of how we want to reach our goals in providing for a safer, more robust economically-developed community for all our tribal members.”
He said the Northern Arapaho Tribe now intends to round up more data for the university’s trustees as they consider the proposal, going forward.