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'We have a history to resolve': MSU Denver offers free tuition to Native, Indigenous students

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Posted at 8:26 AM, May 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-19 10:26:51-04

DENVER — Metropolitan State University of Denver will no longer require Native and Indigenous students to pay tuition or fees. The university made the announcement last week during a graduation ceremony.

“I think our journey over the last five years has really been about embracing our access mission as an institution, making higher education more affordable for more Coloradans, and ensuring that more Coloradans get that post-secondary credential,” Will Simpkins, MSU Denver vice president of Student Affairs said. "I have to give a lot of respect and props to Fort Lewis College down in Durango, who has long been the national leader, providing higher education to our Indigenous and Native communities. What we also learned was that over 70% of Indigenous folks in this country live in urban areas. So I think there's a need for an urban access institution like MS Denver to step into this space.”

The land where MSU Denver is currently located was once the ancestral homeland of the Cheyenne and Arapaho nations.

“This area — Auraria — in Denver is a really important spot for the Native communities. It's the confluence of several waterways. It was literally the crossing grounds — crossroads — in this country, for so many communities. So we're embracing that identity and saying, 'We have a role to play and we have a history to resolve,'” Simpkins said.

Simpkins said about 200 students self-identify as having Indigenous or Native heritage.

“We don't yet know how many of those students are officially enrolled in one of the 574 federally recognized nations,” Simpkins said.

Enrollment in one of the nations is required to take part in the initiative.

“I am Chickasaw, and I'm from the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma. … My husband, and I moved here from Oklahoma, and we are working on one income. Honestly, we were thinking about what I was going to do this next year, because we honestly can't afford it,” said MSU Denver student Kyla Aguire.

But Aguire said the initiative will help her continue her education.

“Indigenous peoples have had, you know, everything taken away from us including our future. This definitely will help bridge that gap and help us navigate life a little,” Aguire said. “People reference it as free education, and free tuition. But the reality is, it was paid for by the blood of our ancestors. So it's definitely not something that we haven’t sacrificed for."

Last legislative session state lawmakers passed a bill providing in-state tuition for any Indigenous students who are registered members of a federally recognized tribe with historical ties to Colorado.