Seeking stability in FLC tuition waiver

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Seeking stability in FLC tuition waiver

Federal funding is about fairness, longevity
Michelle Alvarez, a Navajo, graduated from Fort Lewis College in April. The opportunity to take advantage of the tuition waiver at Fort Lewis College was a huge factor in her deciding to attend Fort Lewis College, Alvarez said. State and college officials are fighting to put the waiver on more stable financial ground by shifting some of the waiver’s $13 million cost to the federal government.
Since she started as president at Fort Lewis College, Dene Kay Thomas has worked diligently to create and promote legislation that would require the federal government to pay for some of the tuition waiver’s $13 million cost.
Sharilyn Browning studies for a final examination in an introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies class at Fort Lewis College. One in five students at the college are Native American, drawn to the college because of a tuition waiver offered to any member of the nation’s 565 registered tribes.
Waiver has had to survive rocky history

Fort Lewis College has good reason to be proactive about protecting the tuition waiver from state legislators skeptical of the $13 million annual price tag.
Legislators first tried to diminish the scope of the tuition waiver in 1971. The Colorado Legislature passed a bill limiting the waiver only to students who lived in Colorado and couldn’t otherwise afford college. The law was based on an opinion from Attorney General Duke Dunbar stating that because the college no longer occupies the original site of the Fort Lewis Indian School, the tuition-free requirement is no longer valid. Sit-ins, boycotts, protests and two lawsuits ensued.
Sammy English, then associate director of the National Indian Youth Council, compared the bill to “another Sand Creek” – referring to the 1864 massacre of several dozen Cheyenne and Arapahoe tribe members in the southeastern Colorado Territory.
“If we lose the battle at Fort Lewis, the decision will affect us and all our children,” he said in a March 1971 Durango Herald news story.
The federal government and a group of students sued the state separately, challenging its interpretation of the 1911 contract. Two years later, the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that Colorado’s acceptance of the specific terms of the contract did not allow the state to duck out of its promise to grant all Native American students free tuition at Fort Lewis College.
In 2010, state Rep. Karen Middleton introduced a bill aiming to reduce the amount the state paid FLC for out-of-state Native American students. The concept behind the bill was purely financial in proposing a way for the state to maintain the waiver without negatively affecting other aid, said Chad Marturano, director of legislative affairs at the Colorado Department of Higher Education. But many saw the bill as a threat to the waiver.
Students, educators and Native American tribes immediately rallied against the bill and news coverage of the issue sparked dozens of comments.
“A promise is a promise … thought our government had learned how to honor those …” one reader posted below a Jan. 16 article on The Durango Herald’s website.
Citing misunderstandings and unexpected backlash, Middleton pulled the bill a few days later.
ecowan@durangoherald.com

IN THIS SERIES

SUNDAY: The tuition waiver’s history, regional economic impact and symbolic importance.
MONDAY: Past use of Fort Lewis College’s former campus and its effect on the tuition waiver.
TODAY: Legislators and college officials hope to shift some of the tuition waiver’s financial burden to the federal government.
WEDNESDAY: The Old Fort Lewis campus today and the struggle to use that land according to its historic educational purpose.

Seeking stability in FLC tuition waiver

Purchase
Michelle Alvarez, a Navajo, graduated from Fort Lewis College in April. The opportunity to take advantage of the tuition waiver at Fort Lewis College was a huge factor in her deciding to attend Fort Lewis College, Alvarez said. State and college officials are fighting to put the waiver on more stable financial ground by shifting some of the waiver’s $13 million cost to the federal government.
Purchase
Since she started as president at Fort Lewis College, Dene Kay Thomas has worked diligently to create and promote legislation that would require the federal government to pay for some of the tuition waiver’s $13 million cost.
Sharilyn Browning studies for a final examination in an introduction to Native American and Indigenous Studies class at Fort Lewis College. One in five students at the college are Native American, drawn to the college because of a tuition waiver offered to any member of the nation’s 565 registered tribes.
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