Native American students can get better access to UC with new aid program
Tuition at the University of California may soon be free for Native American and Alaska Native (AIAN) students who reside in California. The UC Native American Opportunity Plan, announced in April by University of California President Michael Drake, begins in fall 2022 with tuition assistance funded through existing state and institutional aid programs. The plan could encourage California AIAN students to enroll in greater numbers, which could improve representation at UC.
For Native American students, the main barriers to accessing UC often appear in high school. A large gap exists in readiness among high school seniors by race. According to recent data from the California Department of Education, only 31% of Native American students who graduate from high school have met the A–G requirements—minimum courses needed to be eligible for UC and CSU—while 54% of college students white people did.
Among eligible UC/CSU students, Native American students enroll in any college at lower rates than other student groups: 10 percentage points lower than white students, 13 percentage points lower than less than Asian students and 4 points and 1 point less than African American and Latino students, respectively. Among low-income students, the gap is 18 percentage points (68.6% Native American versus 79.6% White).
When we examine enrollment in the UC system among those who meet the A–G requirements, we find that Native American students enroll at similar rates to white students. That is, among eligible 2017-2018 UC/CSU students, 11.0% of Native American students and 11.3% of white students enrolled within 12 months of graduation. their high school diploma. For low-income students, the results were the same: 11.0% of Native American students and 10.6% of white students who met requirements A through G enrolled in a UC.
The UC Native American Opportunity Plan aims to better support Native American students, improve access, and “recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs suffered by Native Americans. The program is expected to serve approximately 500 undergraduate and 160 graduate students in its first year, or approximately 44% of the current AIAN student population at UC.
The plan will be a relatively small investment from the University of California system. AIAN students make up less than 1% of total enrollment, and only students who are members of a federally recognized tribe are eligible, although a $2.5 million scholarship provided by the Graton Rancheria Federated Indians may expand access to other non-federally recognized tribes in years to come.
Additionally, federal, state, and institutional aid likely already covers tuition for many AIAN students. About 45% of AIAN students receive Pell scholarships, and the UC Blue and Gold financial aid program covers tuition for students whose families earn less than $80,000 per year.
The UC Native American Opportunity Plan may encourage more AIAN students to apply to UC, but college readiness rates need to improve dramatically to open the door wider beyond its enrollment rate from 1%.