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

Washington, DC – Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, U.S. Senators for Colorado, late yesterday introduced legislation to help Fort Lewis College cover tuition costs of Native Americans students, who get federally-mandated free tuition at the college. 

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.  This bill will require the federal government to help cover those costs.  

“We need to ensure that Colorado is not strapped with all of the responsibility of reimbursing these federally mandated tuition costs,” said Bennet.  “This is a great program for Native American students who otherwise would struggle to afford higher education and would be worse off in this difficult economy.”

“Fort Lewis College has helped thousands of Native American young people get a good education,” Senator Udall said.  “But Coloradans shouldn’t have to shoulder the costs for out-of-state students on their own.  This is a common-sense and fair proposal that updates the law while allowing Native Americans to continue to get a good education.”

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.  Last year, Fort Lewis College had 758 Native American students, from 95 different congressional districts and 122 tribal governments.  Recently, Fort Lewis College has faced the threat of significant funding cuts that could affect the stability of this essential program. 

Last year, Colorado paid about $10 million in tuition reimbursement for Native American students from 30 different states.  Through this tuition reimbursement, the State of Colorado has more than paid its debt to the federal government.  In the past 25 years alone, the State of Colorado has expended over $110 million for the Native American tuition waiver program, repaying the original land grant valued today at less than $19 million many times over. 

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) is a cosponsor of this legislation.  Rep. John Salazar has introduced companion legislation in the House.