Colorado expands in-state tuition to members of American Indian tribes

Indigenous out-of-state students whose tribes have historical ties to Colorado will get in-state college tuition starting in the fall.

SB21-209, which Gov. Jared Polis signed into law Monday, acknowledges that American Indian tribes were forced out of Colorado and requires higher education institutions to give in-state tuition rates to students who are members of the 48 known Indigenous tribes that were in Colorado. Only two tribes in Colorado, the Southern Ute Tribe and the Ute Mountain Tribe, are federally recognized.

Democratic leadership in both chambers of the Legislature sponsored the bill, and it received bipartisan support.

Fort Lewis College offers free tuition for members of a U.S. federally recognized American Indian tribe or Alaska Native Village, and Colorado State University offers American Indian students in-state tuition. After the University of Colorado Boulder decided to make the change last year as well, lawmakers did what they couldn’t in the past: implement the tuition break at all of Colorado public colleges and universities.

“It’s long overdue, and the fact that all of the other institutions of higher education got on board, I think it’s a testament to the fact that it’s good for Colorado; it’s good for higher ed,” said House Speaker Alec Garnett, a Denver Democrat and bill sponsor.

He added that it’ll help schools rebuild relationships with the tribes that have broken down over the years, and will help colleges and universities diversify student bodies.

In another move to support Indigenous communities, Polis also signed SB21-116 into law Monday. Starting in June 2022, any public school that has an American Indian mascot without formal approval from a tribe will face monthly fines.

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