Tribal college students often late to seek financial aid, report says

A new report out of the Center for Community College Student Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin explores student experiences at tribal colleges and universities (TCUs), highlighting several obstacles to higher education enrollment and completion.

Noting that many American Indian and Alaskan Native students are first-generation and thus have limited experience with the inner workings of college and financial aid, The Hechinger Report calls attention to one finding in particular: tribal college students’ tendency to seek financial aid very late in the process.

Late to seek financial assistance

According to the report, 31 percent of students surveyed when entering TCUs in 2017 and 2018 applied for financial aid less than a month before their classes started, and 14 percent applied afterward. Tribal college students often cite financial issues as their reason for leaving college, the report notes, calling for further study. “A lot of students don’t have access to a college-going experience that tells them ‘Here’s how you apply to college. Here’s all the different things you have to do. You have to apply for financial aid,’” Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, told The Hechinger Report.

In addition, many Native American students have home lives that can complicate the FAFSA process and make applying for financial aid overwhelming. “They may not live with their parents; they may not have an official guardian relationship with whoever they’re living with,” said Cheryl Crazy Bull. “Financial aid requires you to be able to document family income, and I think that’s a big barrier for a lot of students. So I think they delay applying for financial aid because they’re not sure how to address that barrier,” she continued.

Related: Opinion: Fix FAFSA to aid students who don’t live with their parents

The report also points out other “challenges to persistence” faced by tribal college students, like food insecurity; a lack of reliable transportation; and the digital divide—poor access to computers, internet connections, or mobile devices. Ultimately, the authors call for “continued investments from tribal colleges and additional investments from outside the colleges” to ensure students’ success.

Other, non-tribal colleges, meanwhile, are making commitments to helping Native American students transition to college life, through programs like Yale University’s Native American Cultural Center and the Native American Program at Dartmouth College.

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