Legislation would waive tuition for Native American students

Legislation would waive tuition for Native American students
University of Nevada, Reno. Image: Bob Conrad / This Is Reno.

By Jeniffer Solis, Nevada Current
This story was originally published by Nevada Current.

CARSON CITY–Lawmakers have introduced legislation that would create a college tuition waiver for Native American students in Nevada.

The proposal — shepherded by Democratic Assemblywoman Natha Anderson, D-Washoe  — had its first hearing Thursday in the Assembly Committee on Education. The bill would prohibit the Board of Regents from charging tuition for members of a federally recognized tribe or certified by a tribe as being of at least one-quarter Native American descent.

Several other states, including Massachusetts, Michigan and Montana, have enacted policies to provide tuition waivers for Native Americans who reside in their states prior to enrolling in school, or are a member of a tribe from that state.

“One thing that has been very successful in Native American communities is when we are able to pay 100% for university tuition, whether that’s a community college or a four-year college. It shows that schools themselves as well as communities believe in the student and more importantly believe in the future,” said Anderson during the hearing.

It was not immediately clear how much money the measure would cost.

In 2019 there were 698 self-identified Native American students in the Nevada System of Higher Education, said Anderson, less than 1% of the entire student body.

Nationally, just 39% of native students graduate in six years. In 2017, less than one-fifth of Native American and Alaska Native students ages 18-24 were enrolled in college, the lowest of any subgroup.

Native students are more likely than white students to have graduated from low-performing high schools, have greater financial needs, live in communities with higher rates of unemployment, and are often the first in their families to attend college. 

Several Native American leaders and students spoke in favor of the bill, including the chair of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Arlan Melendez, who helped present the measure to the committee.

“Where the University of Nevada now stands, here in Reno, those were Paiute encampments all along the river,” Melendez said. “That’s where our homes were before we were placed on an Indian reservation of only 25 acres, where my tribe started out.”

Melendez said the bill would greatly enhance the ability of Native American students to attend college.

“The number one reason native students do not pursue college is the cost of attendance,” Melendez said. “Tribal governments and our Native American community greatly support this bill. It will not only benefit native students with the ability to have a better paying job in their individual goals but it will also strengthen our tribal communities with a skilled workforce.”

Ryan Boone, an enrolled member of the Walker River Pauite tribe and a student at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, told lawmakers tuition has been a struggle for him and other native students, including his sister, who had to drop out.

Federal student aid as well as the state Millenium Scholarship “have been able to cover a large portion of my tuition, but as each semester comes by I’m having to pay more and more tuition myself,” Boone said.