New program will pay for higher education for Indigenous and Indigenous students

Through a combination of federal, state, and institutional grants, Metropolitan State University of Denver fully cover tuition and fees for indigenous and indigenous students starting in the fall semester.

Eligible students must be Colorado residents registered in one of 574 federally recognized countries and must be enrolling for at least one credit toward a badge, certificate, or first bachelor’s degree up to 125 credits.

This effort is based on a law Project passed last year requiring higher education institutions in the state to offer in-state tuition classification to native students who are members of native nations with historical ties to Colorado.

“I’m really excited – this is an opportunity for me, my siblings and other family members that didn’t exist before,” said Kyla Aguirre, an MSU Denver Political science junior with a minor in Durability studies and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.

The grant follows the University’s previous efforts to expand access to underserved populations, said Will Simpkins, Ed.D., vice president of student affairs, and is part of a mission-driven effort to make up for “the nearly 400-year history of an American higher education system designed to serve a privileged few.

It’s a long-standing legacy to unravel. As reported by Center for American Indian Graduate Studies, 14.5% of the Native American and Alaska Native population earned a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared to 31.3% of the overall population). Additionally, national six-year graduation rates among enrollees are 41% versus 62%, respectively.

“Like our Roadrunner Promise program, the Displaced Aurarians Scholarship (now set to be funded in perpetuity with the help of HB22-1393) and a longtime advocate for Dreamer students, it’s a way to provide critical financial opportunities to students who we know benefit from the MSU Denver experience,” Simpkins said.

“This is an important first step,” he said, “and one we are committed to for our individuals, our families and our communities.”


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To advance this commitment, the University is working with Indigenous leaders, including at a recent Auraria campus meeting with elders from the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations, as well as other internal and external communities, Simpkins added.

Similar programs exist at institutions such as Fort Lewis College and the University of Minnesota-Morris, but are rare in their widespread reach and support, said David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Ph.D., professor of political science at MSU Denver.

“It’s long overdue – it’s time for the State of Colorado and MSU Denver to honor the obligations to the Indigenous people whose lands we call home,” he said.

Weiden, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation who leads the Native American Studies Programstressed the importance of education in improving socio-economic mobility, as well as “opening up the worlds of literature, music, science and more”.

And like 72% of Indigenous people live in urban or suburban areasMSU Denver has a unique opportunity and responsibility to further support this student population.

“Many students who come to us from their reservations often feel ostracized, so finding that space to belong is important,” Weiden said. “I hope to continue to build on the work we’re doing to attract many more students to have that critical mass, as well as more faculty and expanded clubs and scholarships.”


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Aguirre stressed the importance of community building, noting that she did not receive support after graduating from high school in Oklahoma and attending one of the state’s flagship institutions before. to leave for medical reasons.

She was drawn to MSU Denver in 2018 and is now vice president of MSU Denver. Indigenous and Indigenous Student Alliancewho participates in the organization of the tri-institutional pow-wow of the Auraria Campus to raise awareness of indigenous culture, education and inclusion.

“The community here is very tolerant and supportive in trying to help Indigenous students,” she said.

The University’s grant program is a step in the right direction to reconcile a colonial past of brutality and forced displacement, said Darius Smith, director of the City of Denver’s Anti-Discrimination Office and liaison officer for the Denver American Indian Commission.

“What MSU Denver is doing is very forward-thinking and really puts the action into words,” he said. “A Land reconnaissance observes the past, but something like this recognizes the current reality and is an investment in the future.

Smith, a former varsity track participant, also stressed the importance of access to a full educational experience, including sports, after introducing former Roadrunner student Charlie Blueback for the 2017 MSU Denver Athletics Hall of Fame.

“Being able to further open up this premier college experience to Indigenous students is huge. Congratulations on that,” he said.


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Aguirre’s plans include going to law school and returning to the Chickasaw Nation to advocate for environmental issues and give back to his home community. And although her first steps were difficult, she is reassured that those to follow lead to something greater.

“My previous experience (with college) hadn’t been great for different multicultural groups,” she said. “But I came here full of hope and was pleasantly surprised that there was a following in support from communities like mine.

“It’s been a journey, and I’m happy to be at MSU Denver.”

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