University of California system waives tuition, fees for federally recognized Native American tribes

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Every year, about 50 members of the Tule River Indian Tribe graduate high school.

Tribal councilmember Felix Christman says more than half will continue their education.

But this year's graduates heading off to the University of California system will no longer pay tuition or fees.

"To have that off your shoulders, not have to worry about it and to have that opportunity is huge. You can't put it into words," says Christman.

The initiative by the UC System is called the Native American Opportunity Program.

It is open to California state residents who are members of federally recognized tribes.

"This program applies to undergraduate, graduate and professional studies," says Dustin Noji, UC Merced Director of Admissions.

1% of UC students are native -- a number UC Merced hopes will increase by addressing financial barriers.

"We are not just recruiting students to the university, but we are creating places where they can be successful and where we value their culture," says Noji.

The Tule River Indian Tribe has close to 2,000 members. The Reservation, nestled in Tulare County, is home to 1,000 of them.

It is rich in culture, but Christman shares there is always a need for more educational resources.

Their education center was the only elementary school at the Tule River Indian Reservation. It closed during the pandemic.

Now, students have to travel 40 minutes into Porterville down a partially windy road to get to school.

The Native American Opportunity Program means the tribe can reallocate their college funds into other educational programs.

On the horizon might be tutoring, more computers, opening their school up again and college pathway assistance.

"COVID has set a lot of kids back. We want to help them get back on track and this kind of allows us to do that," says Christman.

Student's interested in learning more about the program can contact UC Merced's Students First Center at 209-228-7178 or studentsfirst@ucmerced.edu

You can also visit their website for more information.
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