Metropolitan State University of Denver
Thanks to a combination of federal, state and institutional grants, Metropolitan State University of Denver will fully cover Indigenous and Native students’ tuition and fees beginning in the fall semester.
Eligible students must be Colorado residents enrolled with one of the 574 federally recognized nations and must register for at least one credit toward a badge, certificate or first bachelor’s degree up to 125 credits.
This effort builds upon a legislative bill passed last year requiring state higher-education institutions to offer an in-state tuition classification to Native students who are members of Indigenous nations with historical ties to Colorado.
“I’m really excited — it’s an opportunity for me, my siblings and other family members that hadn’t existed before,” said Kyla Aguirre, an Metropolitan State University of Denver Political Science junior with a minor in Sustainability Studies and a member of the Chickasaw Nation.
The grant follows the University’s previous efforts to expand access for underserved populations, said Will Simpkins, Ed.D., vice president of Student Affairs, and is part of a mission-driven effort to offset “the almost 400-year history of an American higher-education system built to serve the privileged few.
It’s a long-tailed legacy to unravel. As reported by the American Indian Graduate Center, 14.5% of the American Indian and Alaska Native population has completed a bachelor’s degree or higher (compared with 31.3% of the overall population). Additionally, the national six-year graduation rates among those enrolled are 41% vs. 62%, respectively.
“Like our Roadrunner Promise program, Displaced Aurarians scholarship (now poised for funding in perpetuity with help from HB22-1393) and longstanding advocacy for Dreamer students, this is a way of providing critical financial opportunities to students we know benefit from the Metropolitan State University of Denver experience,” Simpkins said.
“It’s an important first step,” he said, “and one we’re committed to for our individuals, families and communities.”
To move this commitment forward, the University is working with Indigenous leaders, including a recent Auraria Campus meeting with elders from the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations, along with other internal and external communities, Simpkins added.
Similar programs exist at institutions such as Fort Lewis College and the University of Minnesota-Morris but are rare in their widespread scope and support, said David Heska Wanbli Weiden, Ph.D., a professor of Political Science at Metropolitan State University of Denver.
“This is long overdue — it’s time for the State of Colorado and Metropolitan State University of Denver to honor the obligations to Indigenous people whose land we are living on,” he said.
Weiden, a member of the Sicangu Lakota Nation who leads the University’s Native American Studies program, underscored the importance of education to improve socioeconomic mobility, along with “opening up worlds of literature, music, science and more.”
And as 72% of Indigenous people live in urban or suburban areas, Metropolitan State University of Denver has a unique opportunity and responsibility to further support this student population.
“Many students coming to us from their reservations often feel ostracized, so it’s important to find that space of belonging,” Weiden said. “My hope is to continue building on the work we’re doing to attract many more students to have that critical mass, along with more professors and expanded clubs and scholarships.”