By Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily
The University of Wyoming has agreed to review a proposal to waive tuition for American Indian students along with other ideas to reduce college costs for tribal students.
The Eastern Shoshone Business Council announced that during a meeting with UW President Ed Seidel last week, its leaders asked the university to consider waiving tuition and fees for students enrolled in American Indian tribes as the University of California has done.
While the UW did not commit to doing so, Seidel did agree to discuss the idea, along with other options that may assist indigenous students in attending college, according to a university spokesman.
The Northern Arapaho Business Council also participated in the meeting.
‘Act of Good Faith’
“One of the topics we want to pursue, certainly, is more financial support for native students,” UW spokesman Chad Baldwin told Cowboy State Daily on Tuesday.
During the two-day meeting last week between UW and the two federally recognized tribes of Wyoming, leaders of all three entities approved new memoranda of understanding defining their relationship.
Baldwin noted that the new MOU promises to open the funding discussion, but does not commit any party to a specific method of financial support.
“(Waiving fees and tuition) could require action by our board of trustees, so there’s not been any commitment there,” Baldwin said. “I know president Seidel definitely wants to have those discussions.”
Jordan Dresser, chairman of the NABC, announced in a prepared video last week that the MOU update is “an act of good faith” promoting “the idea that we’re going to collaborate for future projects and also, we’re going to help create a path for students to be successful.”
In the same prepared video, ESBC Chairman John St. Clair called the MOU “a good agreement,” and emphasized a desire “to develop resources to help our students while they’re in school.”
Neither St. Clair nor Dresser responded to requests through their spokesmen for further comment Wednesday morning.
Too Soon To Talk Funding
State Rep. Bob Nicholas, R-Cheyenne, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, said it was too early in the process to discuss funding mechanisms for a possible tribal tuition waiver.
He noted that about half of UW’s funding comes from the state; the other half is from tuition, federal money and other sources.
“We don’t know if they’re going to do it through their own funding, through their ways that they can provide special discounts for either tribal individuals or folks in need,” said Nicholas. “It’s premature to have that discussion.”
The Legislature cut university funding by about $10 million in 2020, but UW has since compensated in some areas by using American Rescue Plan Act funds, Nicholas said.
The UW received a total of about $49.4 million in COVID-19 federal grants, including CARES Act, ARPA and other program funds, according to the U.S. Treasury Department.
The federal government has given or pledged $64.2 million to the Eastern Shoshone Tribe in COVID grants and direct funds to date.
The federal government has given or promised the Northern Arapaho Tribe roughly $136.6 million in COVID grants and direct funds so far.
Other Schools Waive Fees
The University of California on April 22 dispatched a letter announcing tuition and fees waivers for all enrolled tribal students in a gesture “recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans.”
For the 2022-23 school year, annual in-state tuition at the University of California is $13,104 according to nativenewsonline.net.
About 0.5% of the California school’s students in 2021 were American Indian.
Nearly 0.7% of UW’s students in the fall 2021 semester were American Indian.
Many colleges throughout the nation offer tribe-specific scholarships and fee waivers to students enrolled in various tribes.