Free tuition for Native American students: Is University of Arizona right?

Chris Richards / University of Arizona

Fact Box

  • On June 27, 2022, the University of Arizona announced that Native Americans students will be offered the Arizona Native Scholars Grant for free tuition and fees at its main campus in Tucson, which will be available to the state’s federally recognized 22 tribes and currently 400 eligible students. 
  • Arizona joins California, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, and Oregon in a growing number of universities supporting free tuition for Native students. 
  • According to The US Census Bureau, there are currently 6.79 million Native Americans living in the United States.
  • Estimates suggest that when Columbus first arrived in 1492, anywhere from 5 million to 15 million indigenous people lived in North America.

Curtice (No)

Free tuition for Native American students may seem like a laudable idea, but it has its problems. Offering free college tuition based exclusively on ethnicity unintentionally creates a tiered system on campus—those that must pay tuition outright or through student loans and those who, merely based on race, are exempt from paying any tuition or fees.

Institutions of higher learning should focus on helping all people who need help, regardless of their ethnicity or skin color. This is a far cry from Martin Luther King's hope of judging people based on the 'content of their character,' not by the color of their skin. It also speaks to the soft bigotry of low expectations—that is, lowering the bar for one group of people who are perceived to have suffered in the past. Therefore one must be granted special privileges to have a chance at success today. It condescendingly assumes they could not make it on their own, disregarding migrants and Americans who have exceeded their given station in life.  

This plan and others like it further imply that all Native Americans are too poor to afford a college education. Should a relatively affluent Native American be granted the same privileges as a more economically disadvantaged one? According to the University of Arizona, the answer is yes. It is also noteworthy and true that nothing is free. 'Free' tuition has to be paid by someone. In this instance, most likely Arizona taxpayers. There are plenty of opportunities for incoming students to get financial aid. Low-income students already have easy access to Pell Grants and other such aid.

Colleges already cause enough damage through their racial affirmative action policies. Further segmenting and favoring students by race or ethnicity leads to more divisiveness, not more diversity.

Tyler (Yes)

The University of Arizona's decision to offer free tuition to its Native American students will prove to be quite beneficial in the long run. While the decision may confuse others, who are not sure as to why other minority groups may not receive the same privilege, this specific opportunity best benefited the indigenous people. The move is expected to encourage Native American teens to break societal and cultural norms by pursuing a route of higher education.

This encourages Native Americans to attend universities, as only 25% of Native Americans attend college compared to the national average of 40%. By pushing the importance of education onto the community through free school, Native Americans may be more inclined to consider college. The average public high school student graduates at a rate of 85%, while only 74% of Native American high school students graduate. What's worse is that this rate has moved by only one percentage point since 1969. 

Native Americans have the highest poverty rate among all minority groups. These high school students may feel promoted to pick up a trade and immediately enter the workforce since they can not afford college. By making university free, they are enlightened to an opportunity they would have otherwise not even considered.

Arizona has a high indigenous population, with around 22 recognized tribes. The stark reality is that the United States consists of land that has been wrongfully seized from these tribes. This new tuition-free policy is the least the university and citizens of Arizona can do to help pay it forward and educate future indigenous generations.

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