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Saturday, May 25, 2024

New UW-Madison program will cover cost of attendance for Wisconsin Indigenous students

Mnookin announced the Wisconsin Tribal Education Promise Program Monday. It is designed to cover the full cost of an undergraduate degree as well as in-state tuition for medicine and law graduate degrees.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison will fully cover attendance costs for undergraduates and tuition for some graduate students from American Indian tribes in Wisconsin beginning next fall, the university announced Monday. 

The Wisconsin Tribal Education Promise Program will cover the full cost of an undergraduate degree — including full in-state tuition and fees, housing, meals, books and other educational expenses — for members of 11 federally recognized American Indian tribes seeking undergraduate degrees. The program will also cover the cost of in-state tuition for Native students seeking medicine (M.D.) and law (J.D.) degrees. 

Family income does not affect eligibility for the program, and support will be distributed regardless of financial need. The program covers current and future students enrolled in qualifying programs beginning in fall of 2024.

The new program aims to ensure “full access to all that UW-Madison offers,” UW-Madison Chancellor Jennifer Mnookin said in a press release.

“As a university, we are deeply committed to a future of mutual respect and cooperation with the American Indian tribes in Wisconsin,” Mnookin said. 

Mnookin said during a press conference Monday she doesn't know exactly how many students will be impacted by this program but hopes the number continues to grow over time. 

Eligible students need to submit documentation of eligibility and a FAFSA to receive the aid, Helen Faith, UW-Madison director of financial aid, said Monday.

Tuition-covering programs for Native students have picked up steam in recent years, with universities like the University of Arizona and Oregon State University offering tuition reductions or waivers for eligible scholars, according to NPR

For UW-Madison, a land-grant university founded on Ho-Chunk ancestral land forcibly seized by the state and federal government in the 1800s, the program is another step toward “mutual respect and cooperation” with Wisconsin’s American Indian tribes, Mnookin said Monday. 

Native students account for only 134 of UW-Madison’s 50,633 students as of the 2023-24 academic year, per university data.

Mnookin met with members of the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council to discuss the program over the past year. Jon Greendeer, Ho-Chunk Nation president, said Monday he was grateful Mnookin prioritized in-person meetings to create partnerships with tribal leaders. 

Shannon Holsey, council chairwoman, said the Wisconsin Tribal Education Promise program is a “significant step” in the partnership of tribes in Wisconsin and UW-Madison.

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“This program sends a strong message that our students are important to the state’s flagship university,” Hosley said.

The program was first mentioned by Mnookin during a Sept. 15 event for Ho-Chunk Nation member Truman Lowe. Mnookin said the program, still in development at the time, wouldn’t be funded through state money. 

“It is our hope that more Native students will take a second look at UW-Madison and realize that we are not out of reach,” said Carla Vigue, UW-Madison director of tribal relations.

Tribal and university leaders gathered to celebrate the announcement of the “historic and cycle-breaking” program at a press conference Monday.

Those with a hand in creating the program hope it will make UW-Madison more accessible for native students. 

Hosley said she was grateful Mnookin and UW-Madison were moving beyond simple “land acknowledgment and reparation.” 

The Wisconsin Tribal Educational Promise Program will be a way to bring stewardship of the land back to indigenous communities, according to program designers.

“What better way to [bring this stewardship back] by empowering its next generation of leaders to graduate debt free on their traditional homelands,” Holsey said. 

Editor's Note: This story was updated Monday Dec. 18, 2023 at 1:23 p.m. to add additional comments from a morning press conference.

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