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Indigenous students will now receive free tuition at MSU Denver

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Photo: Josh Geurink, MSU Denver

DENVER — In the fall of 2022, the Metropolitan State University of Denver (MSU) will begin offering free tuition to students who are enrolled in any of the 574 Indigenous nations recognized by the federal government.

MSU’s president, Janine Davidson, announced the new scholarship Saturday, May 7 at the Native and Indigenous graduation ceremony.

More than half of MSU’s undergraduate students are people of color (MSU is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution), but fewer than 100 students identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to university data.

The funding for the Indigenous students’ tuition comes from a “combination of federal, state and institutional grants,” according to MSU. Students must be Colorado residents and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0. Fort Lewis College in Durango also provides free tuition to Native and Indigenous students.

“Many students coming to us from their reservations often feel ostracized, so it’s important to find that space of belonging,” said MSU professor David Heska Wanbli Weiden, who teaches political science and Native American studies. “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.”

One such scholarship is the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship. The three colleges that make up the Auraria Higher Education Center in Denver — MSU, University of Colorado Denver and the Community College of Denver — are providing free tuition to descendants of residents who were displaced when the campus was built in the 1970s. Most of the displaced residents were Hispanic and Indigenous.

Vice President of Student Affairs Will Simpkins said the Displaced Aurarian Scholarship is “a way of providing critical financial opportunities to students we know benefit from the MSU Denver experience.” The scholarship will be funded in perpetuity with the help of a new bill in the Colorado legislature.

Recent state data show only about 2,400 students who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native alone are enrolled in public institutions of higher learning in Colorado. In 2021, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill that makes it so public universities must offer in-state tuition “to students who would not otherwise qualify for in-state tuition if the student is a federally recognized member of a federally recognized American Indian tribe with historical ties to Colorado.”

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