You Wanted to Know: Do Indians have a free ride to college?

Question: “Do Indians have a free ride to college?”

Excerpt: “Although only a small percentage of Indians obtain significant financial help with college, I believe it would be perfectly fair if all Indians did get a free ride. As a matter of not only historical experience but also direct government policy, many Indian people have been made to suffer. They suffered not just in the nineteenth century during the height of violence; they suffer today.”

Among the cumbersome misconceptions of contemporary Native life, the idea of free college education for Native Americans is probably one of the greatest. Certainly, I agree with the excerpt above. “…it would be perfectly fair if all Indians did get a free ride.” Unfortunately, that isn’t the case.

With little effort one can easily dismiss this misconception by discovering some of the scholarships and grants open to Native applicants. If Indians were entitled to a free ride, then why would Native American and tribal scholarships exist?

There is no free ride. Like non-Native students, American Indians have to compete with their peers to gain access to limited scholarship and grant funding. Furthermore, Native students have to meet unique criteria for each specific American Indian scholarship, beyond the usual essays, letter of recommendations, SAT scores, and financial needs assessments. These unique criteria include providing a Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood and, for many Native scholarships, enrollment in a specific tribe.

If anything, Native American students have to work harder than non-Native students to access scholarships and a college education. Combined with the underfunding of treaties for education and healthcare, lack of jobs, lack of access, and lack of policies to support economic progress and sustainability, Native students not only find it harder to fund higher education but are also placed at a severe disadvantage compared to their non-Native counterparts.

Incidentally, the “free ride” misconception continues to haunt Native students even after successfully funding their education. Jason Packineau of Harvard Native provided the following example:

When I worked at the University of New Mexico’s Health Sciences Center supporting Native medical, pharmacy, nursing students, they heard many snide remarks about their supposed “free” education, sometimes to their face.

Considering the struggle Native that students face just getting into the classroom, this kind of unfounded harassment has the potential to further stress Native students who may be dealing with the pressures of being off the reservation for the first time, the first in their family to attend college, or day-to-day social prejudice unrelated to scholarships. On a positive note, I hope this mentality displayed by non-Natives will only serve to inspire the success of Native students.

On the whole, misconceptions and stereotypes about Native Americans will probably never fade, but it takes a strong society to acknowledge the humanity, experience, and struggles of others. It only takes common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. After all, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” Even if Native Americans were entitled to free post-secondary education, consider the historical costs already paid through the generations and continuing on to this day.

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  1. Posted February 3, 2013 at 8:23 am | Permalink

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  2. Posted April 11, 2013 at 5:36 pm | Permalink

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  3. Posted May 20, 2013 at 12:44 am | Permalink

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  4. Sammy
    Posted December 8, 2014 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    Might as well give Africans free collage too. We suffered also, and suffer today as well.

    • Posted December 12, 2014 at 10:37 pm | Permalink

      Your point is understood. Of course, in the blog topic we point out that college is NOT FREE for Native Americans.

  5. Posted December 3, 2015 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Why did I think in Michigan and some states they get help w tuition?

    • Posted December 4, 2015 at 11:28 am | Permalink

      Debby, good question. Throughout the United States, there is a common misconception that Native Americans attend college for free. In reality, they need to seek out and apply for college funding just like any other student. Just this morning, I was reading from one of our scholarship students about how he approached his scholarship search strategy; his search was involved, diverse and quite proactive.

  6. Dan Fowlkes
    Posted February 23, 2016 at 7:00 pm | Permalink

    I am truly surprised that they do not get full scholarships. Along with African Americans, Native Americans have been heavily oppressed by the United States. The primary people who don’t believe in this fact are those who were the oppresser.

  7. Jay Spiegel
    Posted May 30, 2016 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    just this week I met pleasant and seemingly informed Nebraskans who sympathized with the plight of the Lakota, but went out of their way to stress that the Lakota, indeed all native tribe members with 1% native blood could avail themselves of free college. It sounded fishy but they had family who worked in social programs on Pine Ridge….. this ,misinformation and misconception of people who should know is quite strange.

    • Posted June 1, 2016 at 8:18 am | Permalink

      Jay, thanks for your note. Native American students wanting to attend a two-year or four-year university must compete not only for acceptance by the college but also apply for college financial assistance. Some tribes offer scholarships to tribal members, although these vary in amount of funding and sometimes require tribal college attendance.

  8. Tara Ferraro
    Posted July 14, 2016 at 4:10 am | Permalink

    While I feel that our indigenous people deserve and should get a free ride to ANY college… Out of all the atrocities done to various people none have suffered and lost as the Native Americans have… 2 words: “Wounded Knee”

  9. Posted August 2, 2019 at 4:41 am | Permalink

    Good post!!

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