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Michigan Colleges Demand Full Funding of Native Tuition Program

Public colleges and universities in Michigan are calling on the state to fully fund a program that subsidizes tuition for Native American students, according to a story by The Detroit News.

The Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver program, which launched in 1976 as part of a promise by the state to help pay for college in exchange for some tribes giving up land, serves more than 1,000 students each year. Last year, the state was more than $5.2 million short in funding the $8.5 million program, which meant public universities had to come up with the difference.

"It creates this peculiar situation where it is not advantageous for us to recruit native students when we live in the densest Native American population in all of Michigan," said Thomas Pleger, president of Lake State Superior State University, to The Detroit News. "There isn't an incentive to recruit native students; in fact, we are penalized."

Nationwide, American Indian students lag their peers in college enrollment and graduation. Native students accounted for less than 1 percent of students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate programs at all Title IV institutions of higher education, while white students made up 53 percent of the student body. In 2012, only 39 percent of Native students who started college as first-time, full-time students in 2005 graduated, compared to 60 percent of white students, according to the National Indian Education Association.

Some states like California have seen American Indian enrollment drop in recent years, possibly due to declining financial support and "more stringent admission requirements." Last year, the Santa Fe Reporter highlighted efforts of several colleges and universities in New Mexico, which have tried to provide more transition support and financial aid to better support American Indian students. According to the article, New Mexico's American Indian students may face culture shock and financial burdens when they arrive at college, and also may come from underperforming schools where they had poor academic preparation. 

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