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Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 4

Native American college tuition

Native American College Planning Considerations: Part 4 - Financial Support

Native American college planning is a specialized area of concentration in school counseling and college counseling, which includes the concept of Native American college tuition supports. Providing this type of service requires specific training and expertise in culturally responsive counseling. Consider this recent Minnesota School Counselor Association article entitled Cultivating Cultural Responsiveness addressing this practice.

"Culturally responsive counseling means that school counselors identify, recognize and utilize the cultural strengths of students to increase positive outcomes."

In this CollegeBound Journey article series, we will address the four areas that support Native American college planning.  In Part One, we explored Academic Opportunities, in Part Two, we examined Campus Experiences, and in Part Three highlighted the importance of Cultural Supports on and around campus.  This final article, we will outline aspects to support Native American college tuition.

Cultural Understanding for School Counselors in Native American College Planning

Financial Hardship

In 2022, a collaborative research study explored the need to support Native American college students with tuition support. 

The study found that 72 percent of [Native American college] students reported running out of money at least once in the last six months, while more than a quarter experienced food insecurity and 16 percent experienced homelessness as they pursued a higher education. More than 30 percent of former Native students named the first year of college as the most difficult financially. A plurality of current and former students come from households with annual incomes of under $20,000 and struggled to manage unanticipated expenses related to health care, transportation, housing, technology and books during college.

The key finding of the research is that for Native American college students, college affordability goes beyond just tuition fees. In the previous article, Cultural Supports, the significance of interdependence in Native American cultures was discussed. This cultural belief often involves communal resource-sharing such as housing, bills, and food. When Native American students pursue higher education, these financial responsibilities shift solely to the student, often resulting in financial difficulties and challenges in maintaining college attendance.


Myth: College is Free for Native American Students

The term “Native American” pertains to the Indigenous populations of North America, encompassing 574 Federally recognized Tribes in the United States and approximately 400 non-federally recognized Tribes. Each Tribe/Nation preserves its distinct culture encompassing language, beliefs, values, history, and governance. A limited number of Tribes/Nations have the financial capability to fully support students with college tuition.

While colleges across the country are attempting to create tuition waiver and scholarship programs to support Native American students, the real obstacle is often unknown to those outside of Native American communities.  Many tuition waivers and scholarship programs for Native American college students require “proof” of Native American heritage.  Historical events, such as a series of calculated treaties for land cessions and broken agreements during the 1800’s, enabled the United States Government to systematically relocated Native American Tribes and Nations.   Additionally, through genocide, the boarding school era, and pre-1978 child protection practices forced adoptions (see ICWA), connection and documentation to Native American heritage for many Native Americans can be difficult if not impossible.

Cultural Considerations & Native American College Planning

Native American college tuition

Documentation Support for Native American College Tuition

To access additional financial aid for college, Native American students may need extra help and guidance. Acquiring the necessary documentation early on opens up more opportunities for tuition assistance. Here are some Native American status categories that can provide financial support for college students:

  • Enrolled member: Verified enrollment in a Tribe or Nation.
  • Descendant: Directly related to an enrolled member but not eligible for enrollment.
  • Degree of Indian Blood: Official document from the Bureau of Indian Affairs indicating Native American blood quantum.
  • Self-Identified: Determined by the individual without official documentation.

Understanding these status categories is vital for those assisting Native American students in pursuing their college education, as financial aid often hinges on one of these classifications.

Tuition Waivers

College tuition costs can be waived under specific conditions. Recently, there has been an increase in tuition waivers for Native American students.

Depending on the college providing the waiver, students can save between $10,000 and $60,000 annually on tuition fees. It’s important to note that these programs only apply to tuition fees, excluding expenses such as room, board, transportation, and other college costs. Therefore, students will need to explore other avenues to cover these additional expenses.

Key takeaway: Tuition waivers are offered to Native American college students and can significantly lower tuition costs. However, if the college is situated far from the student’s reservation or community, additional support may be required to cover other college expenses.

In-State Tuition Programs

Certain colleges have initiated in-state tuition programs to assist Native American college students. These initiatives aim to aid students who are citizens or descendants of Tribes/Nations with historical connections to the land or state where the college is located. Due to relocation acts and the boarding school era, many Native American individuals were separated from their reservations and communities. These in-state tuition programs are particularly beneficial for students residing in a state different from their ancestral land or reservation.

Key takeaway: Tuition rates could potentially be lowered by utilizing Native American in-state tuition programs. Explore college financial aid websites to find information on program eligibility.

College Scholarships

Although colleges traditionally offer scholarships for smaller amounts, some institutions have started providing full tuition scholarships. Private foundations and direct gifts funds these scholarships through the college and frequently cover expenses like room and board.

Check out another one of our past articles, 5 Full Tuition Scholarships for Native Americans, to explore examples of college offering full scholarships for Native American students.

Key takeaway: Full scholarships for Native American students can support tuition, room, meals, and other college expenses.

Native American College Planning Insights

Furthermore, offering college planning services tailored to Native Americans necessitates specialized knowledge and resources. It involves securing funding for Native youth to facilitate their college education. Moreover, counselors need to expand their understanding of Native American college tuition and scholarship programs to assist in this endeavor.  

Financial assistance for Native American students in college is crucial. Without additional financial aid, many Native American students may struggle to finish their degrees. It’s important for support staff to go beyond the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) when assisting Native American students. There are ample opportunities to help cover college expenses for Native American youth, but it’s vital to have knowledge about these programs and opportunities.


CollegeBound Journey supports school counselors and college counselors with identifying tuition waivers, in-state tuition programs, and college scholarships for Native youth. Check out our College Scholarship Feature page to learn about our unique college search.


Reach out to us for more information on how we can support your work with Native youth.


As an experienced, Licensed School Counselor and Educational Consultant, Kerrie has a passion for creating programming and resources for Native youth success.  She is especially interested in developing and sharing resources that support Native American students towards college matriculation.

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