Colorado Wants Help with Native American Tuition Deal

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1min 25sec

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet listens to Fort Lewis College student body president Bryon Tsabetsaye testify at Denver Congressional hearing on Native American tuition.

The state of Colorado wants the federal government to help pay tuition for Native American students at Fort Lewis College in Durango. That was the message at a Congressional field hearing in Denver on Wednesday on a bill that would do just that.

Here’s a transcript of a report from Colorado Public Radio’s education reporter Jenny Brundin.

Reporter Jenny Brundin: More than a hundred years ago, Fort Lewis College was one of two four-year universities that struck a deal with the federal government. It got land in exchange for promising Native American students free tuition. No one imagined then that the college would become a magnet for Native American students. Today, it's number one in the nation among four-year colleges for degrees granted to Native Americans. But 84% of those students are from out of state. Lieutenant Governor Joe Garcia testified, that costs the state more than $12 million a year. It’s had to cut funding for other financial aid programs as a result.

Lt. Governor Joe Garcia: This is not a state program, but a federal one - a national program with national benefits and national implications.

Reporter: U.S. Senator Michael Bennett of Colorado chaired the hearing. He's sponsoring a bill that would require the federal government to pick up tuition costs for the college's out of state Native American students. He asked Fort Lewis student body president Byron Tsabetsaye, a Navajo who grew up on the New Mexico/Arizona border, what difference would it would make if the tuition waiver went away.

Bryon Tsabetsaye : A huge difference. It would be the difference in my education, the reason for me sitting here today. I believe that my education is my core, and it’s what makes me.

Reporter: Tsabetsaye is not in danger of losing his full ride. Colorado says it will keep covering tuition costs even if Bennet's bill doesn't pass. But, state officials say it's an issue of fairness that the federal government should foot the bill for out of state-ers.

[Photo: Courtesy U.S. Senator Michael Bennet's office]