Bennet, Udall, Tipton Reintroduce Bill to Help Reimburse Fort Lewis College for Native American Tuition

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall and Representative Scott Tipton have reintroduced companion bills in the Senate and House of Representatives to help Fort Lewis College cover tuition costs of Native Americans students, who get federally-mandated free tuition at the college. The University of Minnesota, Morris has a similar mandate and would benefit from this legislation as well.

The Senate bill is also cosponsored by Senators Al Franken (D-MN), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN). The House bill has 27 original cosponsors, including the entire Colorado delegation.

Due to a 1910 federal mandate as part of the original land grant, Fort Lewis College in Durango is required to provide a tuition-free education to all qualifying Native American students. The Bennet-Udall bill and Tipton’s bill will require the federal government to help cover the costs for out-of-state students.

“This is a crucial program for many Native American students who otherwise would struggle to afford higher education, which is quickly becoming a prerequisite for success in the 21st century economy,” Bennet said. “To maintain the viability of this waiver, Colorado cannot and should not be strapped with all of the responsibility of reimbursing these costs. It’s time for the federal government to step in as well.”

“Our country has a sacred obligation to our Native American friends and neighbors. Our economy and the success of tribes like the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe depend on it. Part of that obligation is honoring our promise to ensure that current and future generations have access to an affordable education at quality institutions like Fort Lewis College,” Udall said. “In light of current budget constraints, the costs of providing an education to Native American students from around the country should not fall on the shoulders of Coloradans alone. That is why I am proud to join with my colleagues to re-introduce this important – and fully paid for – legislation.”

“This legislation helps ensure that our country’s pledge to Native American Indians is kept. Without increasing federal spending in any way, this bill will ultimately save Colorado taxpayers money, lifting the weight of an unfunded federal mandate from their shoulders,” Tipton said. “Without this, the education needs of many talented Indian students from around the nation could be in jeopardy.”

The burden of the payments on the state of Colorado has increased exponentially over the years, especially as an increasing number of out-of-state Native American students attend the college. In 2012, Fort Lewis College had 943 Native American students, from 144 different Indian tribes.

In 2012, Colorado paid about $13 million in tuition reimbursement to support Fort Lewis College’s education of Native American students. This bill will ensure that the federal government will start to pay its fair share for this vital program to ensure its long term survival for both Fort Lewis College and its Native American students.

Last Congress, Bennet and Udall introduced this bill, and Tipton introduced companion legislation in the House.

Last August, Bennet held a field hearing of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) to highlight the need for legislation that will help preserve opportunities for Native American students to attend college.