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UA waives undergrad tuition for members of Arizona tribes
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UA waives undergrad tuition for members of Arizona tribes

Members of Arizona’s 22 federally recognized tribes won’t have to pay tuition if they seek a full-time undergraduate degree from the University of Arizona, the school announced Monday.

Tuition and fees cost as much as $13,200 for an academic year at the UA, based on the university’s estimates. The Arizona Native Scholars Grant, however, will cover those costs for enrolled members of the state’s tribes, including the Tohono O’odham and Pascua Yaqui near Tucson.

"This is wonderful news," said Chairman Peter Yucupicio of the Pascua Yaqui Tribe, noting that UA is a land-grant university and that the decision "aligns with the UofA’s strategic plan and our recent (agreement) that we entered into with the university."

"Our Yaqui students and families will benefit greatly, especially given the rising cost of rent, tuition, food, and gas," Yucupicio told the Tucson Sentinel. "This will enable us to ensure more tribal members have a shot at higher education."

The grant is being funded through federal financial aid, but “the university will also look to potential donor support to help fund the program,” according to a UA news release.

More information on the Arizona Native Scholars Grant and other funding opportunities for Native Americans is available online.

Only Native undergraduates attending the UA main campus in Tucson qualify for the free tuition and fees, but officials hope to extend the grant to students in the UA’s graduate and online programs, as well as to other UA campuses in Yuma, Douglas, Nogales, Sierra Vista and Chandler.

Arizona tribal students can access the grant as soon as the fall 2022 semester. The program is open to both new and continuing students. To enroll in the grant, students only need to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid — or FAFSA — and provide tribal identification.

The UA enrolled more than 400 students last year who would have met the criteria for the new program, according to a press release. UA President Robert Robbins touted the free tuition and fees as “a crucial part” of the university’s “land-grant mission” of providing “broadly accessible education.”

"I am so proud that this university has found a way to help hundreds of students more easily access and complete a college education, and I look forward to finding ways to take these efforts even further,” Robbins said in the release Monday. “The Arizona Native Scholars Grant program is another important step among many to do that."

The UA has also recently been making a show of their support for the state’s indigenous history by renaming buildings in the 22 different languages of each tribe. The school started the transition by changing the name of their communications building into the Tohono O’odham language in February.

The Arizona Department of Education also awarded a $1.2 million grant earlier in the month to the UA College of Education to boost their Native Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency program, better known as Native SOAR.

The Native SOAR program allows UA students from any major to spend about three to four hours a week mentoring middle and high students across the state and teach them about attending college, cultural resilience, leadership and identity, according to previous TucsonSentinel.com reporting.

The UA also awarded more doctorate degrees to Native American students than any other college or university in the country between 2016 and 2020, according to a National Science Foundation survey.

The UA also ranked third among U.S. law schools for the number of JDs awarded to Native Americans during the 2020-2021 school year, though they only awarded five such law degrees that year, according to an American Bar Association report

"These initiatives aren't checkmarks,” Levi Esquerra, UA's senior vice president for Native American advancement and tribal engagement, said in a news release.

“They represent the (UA)'s commitment and continued drive to be the leading institution serving Native Americans," Esquerra said. "This is a very exciting time, and we're going to continue our work with tribes to make great things happen."

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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