MARQUETTE, Mich.—Native American students attending Northern Michigan University will no longer need to be enrolled in a degree-granting program to receive the Michigan Indian Tuition Waiver (MITW). NMU President Fritz Erickson announced the change today during a meeting with members of the Hannahville Indian Community. He said it is meant to assist Native students who want to take one or more courses, but have not officially selected an academic program or may not need to complete a full degree.
“Making this change helps to ensure access to a wider variety of learning options at Northern for Native American students who are eligible for this statewide tuition waiver,” said Erickson.
The MITW waives tuition at the state’s public colleges and universities for students who meet the following criteria: are one-quarter or more Native American blood quantum as certified by their tribal enrollment departments; are enrolled members of a U.S. federally recognized tribe as certified by the tribal enrollment department; and have been a legal resident of Michigan for at least 12 consecutive months.
The MITW is rooted in federal treaties with educational provisions and represents a tri-lateral relationship between federal, state and tribal governments. It was instituted in 1976, when the Michigan Legislature passed the Waiver of Tuition for North American Indians Act and Gov. William Milliken signed it into law. The MITW was later amended slightly to its current form.
Northern’s MITW has evolved as well. Two years ago, the university removed “satisfactory academic progress” from the criteria. Martin Reinhardt, professor in the NMU Center for American Studies, said eliminating the degree-seeking component further opens the door to higher education for all American Indian people, including the Anishinaabe Three Fires Confederacy, to which all tribes in Michigan belong.
“This change will allow students to take a course out of interest without having to pursue a degree or otherwise comply with federal financial aid guidelines,” Reinhardt said. “It’s similar to what the university offers to seniors 62 and older. But what might happen is that some students may take a course based on interest, find college is a good fit for them and decide to continue their studies. The university has taken another step forward in demonstrating its commitment, both to the tribes and to its Center for Native American Studies. We continue to explore other ways to further strengthen that relationship.”
There were 222 Native American students enrolled full or part time at NMU during the 2014-15 academic year. Of those, 121 qualified for the waiver, which NMU funded at $765,000. The state covers a portion of the MITW at all universities within their base budget appropriations.