In the letter, sent by system President Michael V. Drake to UC chancellors and also shared with CNN, Drake announced the waived tuition and fees specifically for "California residents who are members of federally recognized Native American, American Indian, and Alaska Native tribes." The move is a key part of the UC Native American Opportunity Plan, he said, aiming to make the university system more affordable and accessible for Native American students. The waived fees will apply to both undergraduate and graduate students.
"The University of California is committed to recognizing and acknowledging historical wrongs endured by Native Americans," Drake wrote. "I am hopeful that this new program will benefit our students and continue to position the University of California as the institution of choice for Native American students."
The plan will be funded through a combination of state and university financial aid programs, along with other resources, according to the letter.
For California residents of non-federally recognized tribes, tuition scholarships will be made available at a later date, Drake said.
In a jointly written op-ed that is not yet published, professors Randall Akee, Phenocia Bauerle, Paul Ong and Desi Small-Rodriguez wrote that they hope to see other land-grant universities follow UC's lead.
"The UC system is leading the way in acknowledging its place and role in educating Indigenous people," they wrote in excerpts shared with CNN by Akee. "It is our hope that this new (University of California Office of the President) program will be a call to action to other public, land-grant institutions in the US. In the absence of similar programs in other locations, the UC system as a whole will gain a significant advantage in recruiting the best and brightest AIAN students from around the country."
Only 0.8% of undergraduate students identify as American Indian or Alaska Native, according to 2016 data analyzed by the American Council on Education. According to the ACE's report, high school graduates of American Indian or Alaska Native descent enroll in college at less than half the average rate -- with only 18.8% enrolled in 2016.
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