The state will pay the cost of college for Oregon tribesmen who go to school in the state

Instead of taking classes for her computer science degree this spring, No’alani Malumaleumu spent 60 hours a week split between two jobs. In the mornings, she helped people answer their IT questions for Cayuse Technologies, a tribe-owned company in her hometown of Pendleton. For the rest of the day, she worked at McDonalds.

Malumaleumu, 20, enrolled at the Oregon Institute of Technology last fall to pursue a degree in technology, which she discovered a passion for while working at Cayuse. But after two terms, her costs began to mount: Even with financial aid, Malumaleumu owed the school a few thousand dollars each term, and moving out of her parents’ house meant new expenses. She decided to take a break from school to pay off her debts, before accumulating more.

When she returns to school in the fall, however, Malumaleumu’s financial situation may improve: as a registered member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, she is eligible for a scholarship that will cover most or all of the graduate fees for students who belong to one of Oregon’s nine federally recognized tribes in 2022-2023.

She submitted her candidacy last week.

“It’s definitely a big relief. It’s exciting to talk about it, even just to think about it,” Malumaleumu said.

She is among approximately 700 Oregon tribal members expected to participate in what may be the nation’s most ambitious program aimed at reducing financial barriers that contribute to low college attendance and school completion rates among Native American students. But so far lawmakers have only funded it for the next academic year — something the program’s funders hope the legislature will extend into 2023.

The Legislature has funded the Oregon Tribal Student Grant Program to the tune of $19 million for 2022-23. The maximum grants will cover the average cost of attendance — including tuition, books, housing and more — for tribal members attending a community college or university in the state.

More than 400 people have started applying for grants so far, said Endi Hartigan, communications director for the state’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission.

Students seeking the scholarship will need to submit a Federal Student Aid Application or an Oregon Student Aid Application. The Tribal Scholarship will help cover the difference between the state or federal aid a student receives and the average cost of attending their school in the state.

It can be a big difference. In 2021-22, the maximum federal grant for pells was approximately $6,500 and the maximum Oregon Opportunity Grant was approximately $3,600. The average cost of attending a school in Oregon, by comparison, was about $21,000 for a community college and $28,000 for a public university.

“This is a huge opportunity for our tribal members to essentially get into higher education where they may not be going if they didn’t have access to this grant,” said Modesta Minthorn, director of education for the confederate tribes of the Umatilla. Indian reservation.

The percentage of Native American students in Oregon who attend college after high school has declined in recent years. According to a 2021 commission report, only 48% of Native American high school graduates in Oregon enrolled in college within 16 months of high school, compared to 61% of all students.

College completion rates reveal another disparity. About 52% of Native American students at public universities in Oregon graduate within six years, compared to 67% of all students.

“I think the (Oregon) program would be a huge advantage in terms of getting a college degree,” said Dina Horwedel of the American Indian College Fund.

“The money, the financial access is fantastic – but of course there are also student supports that people need once they are in school,” added Horwedel. “It’s a great first step.”

The grant is expected to cover most or all of the costs for undergraduate students in a public school. Students attending Oregon’s private nonprofit schools and graduate programs may also apply — although the grant is capped at the maximum cost of attending a public university.

The tribes encourage their older adult members who have completed college but have yet to graduate to take advantage of the funding to return to school.

“This will help our communities in the long run,” said Valerie Switzler, executive director of education for the Confederate Tribes of Warm Springs.

Several states offer financial aid or tuition waivers to Native American students, according to a study the States Education Commission provided to the Oregon Higher Education Commission. But Oregon has yet to find another example of a state offering grants beyond tuition to the cost of attending an in-state school, Hartigan said.

Only members of Oregon’s nine tribes – including the Burns Paiute Tribe, Klamath Tribes, Coquille Indian Tribe and others – will be covered. That’s just a subset of the nearly 2,000 community and university college students in Oregon who identified as Native American and Alaska Native in 2020-21, according to the Teaching Coordinating Commission. higher, since this number includes students from out-of-state tribes.

At last count, Oregon’s federally recognized tribes reported more than 29,000 members, according to the state’s Legislative Commission on Indian Services.

Although the grant has only been funded for one year so far, Hartigan said she expects the Higher Education Commission to put the program expansion at the top of its list of demands. budgets to the 2023 Legislative Assembly.

Sandy Henry, director of education for the Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Indian Tribe, fears a one-time grant will leave students in limbo.

“It opens the door to an opportunity and allows students to start a degree and all of a sudden it could be gone,” Henry said. “I’m afraid we may have put people on the road to success and said, ‘Huh, it’s okay.'”

Western Oregon University student Alyssa Rainville hopes the Oregon Tribal Scholarship will help pay for her final year of college, giving her time to focus on her next steps.Courtesy of Alyssa Rainville

Even a year of funding could help the Rainville sisters of the Cow Creek Tribe.

Alyssa Rainville, a student at Western Oregon University, said getting the grant for her senior year would allow her to not only focus on coursework, but also prepare her resume and apply for jobs after graduation. of his degree. Her sister, Aubrey, hopes the grant can help her pay for her freshman year at Western Oregon, including the more than $10,000 price tag for mandatory on-campus housing for freshmen.

“It’s huge just for the community of Native American kids that we see, and it gives us the opportunity to get a higher education and set us up for success,” Aubrey Rainville said. “I hope (the grant) is something that’s ongoing – if not, I’m grateful it’s here this year.”

The priority application deadline for grant funding is August 1. If there is additional funding after the first round of scholarships, the commission may accept additional applicants for the winter and spring terms.

Malumaleumu originally planned to spend her early years at Oregon Tech – which is based in Klamath Falls – working from Pendleton while she saves. With the grant money, she might be able to afford to move out for in-person classes sooner rather than later.

“I can’t wait to get back to school,” she said.

For more details on grant funding and eligibility, visit OregonStudentAid.gov.

— Sami Edge

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