Earlier month, Iḷisaġvik College in Utqiaġvik — the only federally recognized tribal college in Alaska — announced that it will waive tuition for all Alaska Native students, starting next semester. The college offers associate degrees, vocational certificates, and short-term workforce development courses, plus a bachelor’s degree in business administration that just launched this fall.
Of the 700 or so students enrolled in the college each semester, a large proportion are non-native. In fact, among tribal colleges and universities, Iḷisaġvik has one of the highest non-native enrollments.
“We hover between about 55-60% Alaska Native students currently,” Pearl Brower, President of Iḷisaġvik College, said. “And we certainly hope that those numbers are going to grow with this waiver of tuition.”
Brower said that students have expressed concern with the price of tuition, which for a full course load runs over $3,000. This is especially hard for distance-education students who take classes online from rural areas where there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs.
“More and more we were hearing that funding was a barrier. They were trying to figure out how to go to college when this looming monetary amount was in front of them,” Brower said.
The school is planning to cover the cost of the waiver internally, although the price will be defrayed by the Bureau of Indian Education, which gives Iḷisaġvik money for each full course load being taken by Alaska Native or American Indian students.
Brower said that the ultimate goal of the waiver program is to encourage more Alaska Native students to finish their associate degrees and go on to get their bachelor’s. She hopes that will translate to more hiring of Alaska Natives in positions that require those degrees, especially in rural schools and businesses across the state.