FLC makes headway in effort to fund Natives’ tuition

DENVER – Fort Lewis College is making headway in Congress in its attempt to get federal funding for Native American students, President Dene Kay Thomas told state legislators Thursday.

The college has 41 sponsors for the bill by Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez, and Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo. – twice as many as last year’s unsuccessful bill.

“It’s bipartisan. We have more supporters in the House than the Senate, but we have a number of senators considering sponsorship,” Thomas told the Joint Budget Committee during the college’s annual hearing.

Fort Lewis is one of two colleges in the country to offer free tuition to Native Americans, because of a century-old contract between the state and federal government.

Colorado will spend $15.3 million on the tuition waiver next year, an increase of $837,000 from this year.

State legislators balked at the price tag in 2010, but they have supported the college for the last several years, and that didn’t change Thursday.

“If you make a promise, you keep a promise,” said Rep. Cheri Gerou, R-Evergreen. “It is a credit to your institution and your community that you are keeping that promise on behalf of the state of Colorado.”

Statewide, Gov. John Hickenlooper’s budget calls for a $100 million increase for colleges and financial aid.

“This is a request for a serious reinvestment in higher education,” said Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who is also head of the Department of Higher Education.

Despite the increase, colleges have borne the brunt of a tough era for the state budget.

“Let’s keep that in context. This is in the face of cuts that dwarf that amount over the last decade,” Garcia said.

In return for the increased support from the state, Garcia said he has handshake agreements with the leaders of every college to limit next year’s tuition increases to 6 percent or less.

Many colleges have raised tuition by 9 percent or more each of the last several years as state support dwindled. Several legislators Thursday said they want a stronger guarantee that tuition won’t be raised more than 6 percent next year.