The University of California released a letter by UC President Michael V. Drake on Tuesday, announcing that all Californian Native American residents will not have to pay tuition starting in the fall semester.
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In the letter dated Friday, Drake outlined the UC Native American Opportunity Plan. Under it, all California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian and Alaska Native tribes will not have to pay either in-state tuition or student service fees once accepted at any UC system college. While funding sources have not been finalized, the letter said that most funding would be coming from existing state and university financial aid programs, as well as other unnamed resources. Students of non-federally recognized tribes will also see scholarships available through other organizations, but with additional information on them to come later this year
The decision will affect hundreds of students. Around 500 Native American undergraduate students and 160 graduate students are currently in the UC system this year, with similar numbers likely for the 2022-2023 academic year. As in-state UC tuition currently costs about $13,000 for the 2022-2023 school year, on top of $1,400 in campus fees, the total yearly cost will be roughly $9.5 million, depending on the number of students each year.
President Drake and the UC system went forward with the plan in part to increase diversity, help right past wrongs against Native Americans in the past, and to bridge the gap of low Native American college enrollment. According to the University of California, Native American students are only .52% of the student body across all campuses statewide, despite having 1.6% of the state’s population. Graduation rates among Native Americans are also 10% lower than the state average. Drake and others hope to fix this through the new UC Native American Opportunity Plan program.
“The University of California is committed to recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans,” said Drake. “I am proud of the efforts the University has made to support the Native American community, including the creation of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, and appreciate our conversations to date on all the ways in which we can better support Native American students. I am hopeful that this new program will benefit our students and continue to position the University of California as the institution of choice for Native American students.”
Mixed reaction over free tuition program
Many Native Americans and Native American groups praised the decision on Tuesday.
“A lot of Native Americans don’t go to the best schools or are limited by multiple factors,” explained Jack Locklear, a Native American from Northern California who has assisted in awarding Native American scholarships locally to the Globe on Tuesday. “For a long time, Native Americans and other AIAN peoples have been barred from so many things or were limited in what they can do. This program helps correct that. Free education is so important here.”
However, many detractors noted that program ignores other achievements, namely academic and athletic, that usually warrant scholarships, especially to prestigious UC universities.
“There’s a lot of students out there who need help and just get under the wire in terms of academic scholarships,” said Paris Morris, an academic advisor to high school students specializing in top 25 University placement, in a Globe interview. “This program ignores students who pushed themselves to get top grades, who contributed to their community, or did great things athletically for these scholarships. Yes, Native Americans have been a historically oppressed group, but this is the 2020’s. We need to look at individuals and how they fare. Plus, where is the line. Are half-Native Americans included? Those who are a quarter? These are questions that really need to be answered.
“Honestly, they’re ignoring all other Californian students who pushed themselves in the hope of getting scholarships. If this is brought to court, they’re going to have a real hard time defending this. Californians keep pushing back against affirmative action. You can only imagine how most feel about something like a travesty like this.”
More details of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan are expected to be released in the coming months.
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