By Debra Utacia Krol
Indian Country, 7/11/16 —

The Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program at Humboldt State University focuses on recruiting American Indian students.

Feeling like college is far out of reach for you? Don’t have the fortitude—or the credit rating—to take on six-figure debt for that sheepskin? Well, relief is at hand, Native students and prospective students. Here are five universities that offer support, scholarships and, sometimes, free tuition for Native students.

Blind Yourself with Science

The Indian Natural Resources, Science and Engineering Program (INRSEP) at Humboldt State University, recruits and provides support services to “underrepresented, low income, and historically disadvantaged students in STEM disciplines with a specific focus on American Indian and indigenous students,” according to HSU’s website. INRSEP supports Native students with academic and research support services to this historically underrepresented community.

INRSEP also provides resources through the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) and Society for the Advancement of Native Americans and Chicanos in Science (SACNAS), and provides services through the Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation (LSAMP) program, a National Science Foundation initiative that aims to increase the numbers of underrepresented minorities in STEM careers. HSU is a longtime program partner. Students can also take advantage of the rich diversity of Northern California tribal cultures in the region while acquiring a quality education.

Leap Over the Gap For a Free Degree

For those who wish to attend college for free (or nearly free), the University of Maine offers tuition waivers for Native students who are residents, or who establish residency by living in the state for at least one year. The UM program provides Native college students an opportunity to acquire a quality education in one of the United States’ most beautiful states. And UM offers some great degrees, such as forestry.

John Bear Mitchell, Penobscot, the director of the program, estimates that in the 14 years he has managed the tuition waiver, about 800 students have participated in the program. “This past year, students from 23 tribes were in the program,” he says, coming from as far away as Alaska and California.

The tuition waiver program, which started in 1934, also requires that students qualify academically and be accepted into the university. “We supply student support services and require the students to maintain good academic standing.” In fact, if a student falls behind, academic counseling is required.

Mitchell also administers a room and board grant program for need-based students.

Adjunct instructor gkisedtanamoogk, left, a Wampanoag educator and Native American Studies faculty member at the University of Maine, works with visiting anthropologist Marge Bruchac. (Courtesy University of Maine/CLAS)

Study with World-Class Native Scholars

The University of California at Los Angeles provides Native students with the opportunity to learn from some of Indian country’s giants. Study Indian law with Carole Goldberg, who among other achievements served on the Indian Law and Order Commission. Or, learn sociology with acclaimed scholar Duane Champagne, Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa (an ICTMN columnist). Peter Nabokov, author of many books on Native issues, including the protection of sacred sites, is also part of UCLA’s interdepartmental American Indian Studies program. Research opportunities abound as well in language preservation, Indian law and other areas.

With one of the United States’ largest urban Indian communities as well as several indigenous California Indian communities, there’s also much to see and do for those who don’t just want to lounge on the beach between classes.

The University of California at Los Angeles provides Native students with the opportunity to learn from some of Indian country’s giants. (Courtesy UCLA)

Best Way to Turn Yourself Loose

For those who can’t abide big cities, take the immortal Merle Haggard’s advice and head to the middle of Montana—well, not quite the middle, but to beautiful Bozeman—to earn your degree at Montana State University. Named one of the top 100 minority degree producers by Diverse Education, MSU offers Natives degree programs in many sought-after programs such as sustainable food production, natural resources and rangeland ecology, and education.

Plus, you’ll be living in the gorgeous Gallatin Valley, with clean water and air, support from the Native American Studies program and a cost of living that’s only slightly higher than the U.S. average. Pow wows are plentiful in Montana as well, including the legendary Crow Fair.

If the big city isn’t your thing, head to Bozeman, Montana to earn your degree at Montana State University. Pictured is the 2015-2016 American Indian Council. (Courtesy Montana State University)

Study Law on (Virtual) Tulsa Time

For those who seek to grasp the intricacies of federal Indian law, but who aren’t able to take the time away from their career to go to law school, the University of Tulsa offers an online Master of Jurisprudence in Indian Law (MJIL) degree program. The 18- to 24-month program is a great option for tribal leaders or tribal government managers, attorneys who wish to learn more about Indian law or policy, or those seeking to enter tribal government. The program offers a solid grounding in topics ranging from legal principles that guide Native policy to legal writing, and from family law to natural resources, land use and energy. Although it is the nation’s smallest law school, TU graduates serve across Indian country and the world.

The University of Tulsa’s Law School celebrates the end of their educational journey. (Courtesy University of Tulsa)

This article appeared in the Indian Country Today Media Network 2016 Hot List magazine.