The University of Minnesota-Morris serves a growing population of Native American students as one of only two colleges in the nation that offer free tuition to those students.
As a result, the number of Native American students on the system campus has nearly doubled over the last decade. More than 17 percent of Morris’ student body is Native American, and that number is expected to grow, potentially increasing the campus’ need for more funding to support the growing population.
Some student leaders are calling for increased financial support for offering the tuition waiver this year, citing the importance of Morris’ increasingly diverse student population.
The Morris campus was once a boarding school used to assimilate Native Americans in 1887. After the school closed in 1909, the U.S. government gave the property to the state to turn into an agriculture school under the condition that Native Americanstudents would be able to attend without paying tuition.
The University officially established the Morris campus in 1960 and since then, has waived tuition for all of its Native American students. To qualify for free tuition, students need to be a member of a federally recognized tribe or a direct descendent.
“It’s unusual for families to be able to find a college where Native culture is reflected as much,” said Sandy Olson-Loy, Morris’ vice chancellor for student affairs. “Especially sitting on a campus site that was home to an American Indian boarding school, which really tried to wipe out American Indian culture.”
Olson-Loy said the University’s central administration funds about two-thirds of the waiver program’s cost. The rest of the money comes from the campus’ budget.
Morris has repeatedly sought additional federal support in recent years to afford the program.
This year, federal officials introduced a proposal in the U.S. House of Representatives to reimburse schools’ tuition waivers for out-of-state Native American students.
The other school that offers the waiver program is Fort Lewis College in Colorado.
Olson-Loy said about 25 percent of Morris’ Native American students are from other states.
“We’re hopeful something can happen on this,” she said, noting there’s an achievement gap that sometimes prevents Native American students from earning a degree.
Trey Goodsell, an environmental studies sophomore, is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate tribe, whose reservation lies on land in both North Dakota and South Dakota. He said by not paying tuition, he’s avoiding debt after college.
Goodsell is also the co-chair of Morris’ Circle of Nations Indigenous Association. He said the group wants to educate more students about the tuition waiver, which has recently generated a lot of discussion among current and prospective students.
“A lot of people don’t feel that Native Americans have earned it,” Goodsell said. “The more people that are aware that it exists across the U.S. and Canada, the more people will apply for it.”