Colleges are making tuition free for Native students. Will more students graduate?
August 19, 2022
Growing up in Santa Rosa, Calif., Kayley Walker put sports at the center of her life. She was on the track and field team, doing shotput and discus. After high school, she went to a community college near her home before transferring to the University of California, Davis in the fall of 2020.
There, half of her tuition was covered by her tribe – the Picayune Rancheria of the Chukchansi Indians – but the other half was up to her. This summer, as she geared up to start her fifth year of college, coming up with that tuition money was weighing on her.
But starting in September, Walker will have her tuition covered, part of a new initiative through the University of California system to make tuition free for Native students.
“It just kind of it takes a really big weight off my shoulders to know that I’m covered,” Walker said. It also opened up an opportunity she never thought possible: applying for a Master’s degree.
The UC system, the largest in the nation, is part of a growing number of schools to make tuition free for Native students. In June, the University of Arizona announced free tuition for students who are enrolled with a federally recognized tribe in Arizona. This fall, Oregon State University will grant in-state tuition for every federally-recognized Native student, regardless of where they live.
These programs aim to support Native students, who had the highest dropout rates out of any ethnic group in the country during the pandemic. But it’s not just a pandemic issue, Native student enrollment has been on the decline since 2008.