The Nevada System of Higher Education has released fee waivers for Native American students and students from Nevada National Guard families, aiming to remove financial barriers for education.
The fee waivers were passed by Governor Sisolak and the Nevada Legislature during the 81st legislative session with the goal of increasing participation in post-secondary education and have been available since the beginning of the fall 2021 semester.
Through Assembly Bill 262, eligibility for Native American students includes being a member or descendant of a federally-recognized Native American tribe or nation located within Nevada. Students must also have been a Nevada resident for at least a year, maintain a 2.0 GPA while enrolled at their university and have completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid to be able to apply.
Native students were brought into the planning process for the waiver, backed by Assemblywoman Natha Anderson and members of various tribal nations. One of the students involved was Jarrette Werk, an enrolled member of the Aaniiih and Nakoda Nation’s of the Fort Belknap Indian Community of Montana and university senior.
Werk completed his freshman year at Montana State University, which had a similar “American Indian Tuition Waiver” initiative before transferring to UNR.
“I gave a written testimony as someone who had benefited from my home state of Montana’s tuition waiver for Native students,” said Werk. “I personally will not benefit from this tuition waiver in Nevada. However, I believe that it’s so important and will help more Indigenous students make it to college and graduate.”
The fee waiver was expanded by Assembly Bill 156 to include active duty
members of the Nevada National Guard, who can transfer existing registration and laboratory fee waivers to a spouse or child during a period of reenlistment. Students using this waiver must also maintain a minimum 2.0 GPA.
“The fee waiver covers state-supported, academic credit-bearing courses that lead to a certificate, associate, baccalaureate, master’s, doctoral, or professional degree including distance education courses, independent learning, and continuing education courses as long as a student is degree seeking,” read NSHE’s website. “The fee waiver also covers co-requisite and corresponding support courses including courses numbered below 100. Self-supporting courses, including independent study and correspondence courses, are not eligible for the fee waiver.”
When completing the form, applicants must prove one year of residency in Nevada through documentation such as a Nevada driver’s license, identification card, vehicle registration, voter registration, bills or any other documentation accepted by the institution they are attending.
The student will only have to submit the fee waiver once, so long as they remain continuously enrolled at their designated institution during the fall and spring semesters and submit the FAFSA every year, for which they want to enact the waiver. If a student takes a break in enrollment, they will have to resubmit the waiver for the following semester.
Emma Williams, a junior at the University of Nevada, Reno, has already benefited from the fee waiver since she applied two weeks before the start of the Fall 2021 semester.
“I think it’s important that they are acknowledging that these are originally native lands and providing reparations for the land being taken from us,” said Williams, who is enrolled with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, whose traditional homelands lie within Washoe county. “After financial aid, the tuition waiver covered the remaining class fees in my account which was very helpful to me.”
Williams did, however, have concerns about some of the terms and conditions on the waiver that specified that to qualify, you must be in a tribe that “all or part of which is located within the boundaries of Nevada.”
“There are some native students that are members of the qualifying tribes that reside within Nevada, but are not eligible for the fee waiver because their zip codes are technically California or Idaho, since the tribe’s lands spread through the borders of these states,” she said. “Like students who grew up on the Owyhee ‘Duck Valley’ reservation which crosses between Nevada and Idaho, or in the Woodfords community in Alpine County, California.”
Williams added that she hopes the waiver can be updated in the future to include the full expanse of land or reservation boundaries that these tribes inhabited— and still do today—regardless of residency in Nevada.
Sydney Peerman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @sydneypeerman.