In-State Tuition Creates Opportunity for American Indian Students
Since the Arizona Board of Regents approved a policy granting members of all federally recognized tribes in Arizona in-state tuition, the UA has enrolled 100 students under the residency exception.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Relations - Communications
April 7, 2015


The UA has enrolled 100 American Indian students under the residency exception approved by the Arizona Board of Regents.
The UA has enrolled 100 American Indian students under the residency exception approved by the Arizona Board of Regents. (Photo: Paul O'Mara)

A policy granting members of all federally recognized tribes in Arizona in-state tuition — even those who choose to return after attending an institution elsewhere — is helping to retain American Indian students by making educational costs more affordable.

Since the residency classification policy was approved by the Arizona Board of Regents in 2013, the University of Arizona has enrolled 85 undergraduate and 15 graduate students under the exception. The UA's total American Indian student population is 1,201.

"People are so pleased that we have this policy in place," said Karen Francis-Begay (Navajo), the UA assistant vice president for tribal relations. 

The policy also came from a need to expand the state's educated workforce to address problems related to social and economic inequity, and to help drive economic development for the state and tribal nations.

"Of course, there is the economic benefit for the state, as many of these students will hopefully stay in Arizona and contribute to the Arizona’s workforce," Francis-Begay said, adding that some out-of-state resident students who had chosen to study in other states are being encouraged to return to Arizona and qualify for in-state tuition if they are enrolled members of one of the 22 Arizona tribes.

More than 35 tribal colleges exist in more than a dozen states, and they attract many American Indian students from Arizona. Previously, the policy would have prevented Arizona students who left the state from being considered for in-state tuition, prompting many of these students to remain in the state of the tribal college. The policy lures them back.

"These students will probably have a tendency to remain in Arizona for employment because they are forever tied to their traditional homelands," Francis-Begay said.

The policy signals an investment in recruiting, retaining and graduating more American Indian students, and it also respects the sovereignty held by the state's 22 tribal nations, said Arizona Board of Regents member LuAnn Leonard (Hopi, Tohono O’odham).

"It gives the strong sense that we want them here," said Leonard, also executive director of the Hopi Education Endowment Fund. "The policy is a good start, and it will make a significant difference. I'm excited about that."

Leonard reported that a total of 358 students have been granted the exception at Arizona State and Northern Arizona universities. All told, about 4,200 American Indian students attend one of the state's higher-education institutions.

"It's still a few years out that we will begin to see the concrete benefits of this policy," Leonard said, noting that the next phase of benefits will be when graduates begin expanding their statewide contributions with diplomas in hand.

"Each of those graduates will be bringing skills that are going to make a huge differences in our communities," she said. "They will be able to thrive professionally and also participate in centuries-old cultural duties to ensure that our tribal nations will continue to grow."

An Integrated Approach of Support

The policy revision is not retroactive to previous semesters. Continuing students who have been classified as non-residents must change their residency classification.

The UA has since changed its application for admission so that students who qualify are identified earlier in the admissions process.

Also, the University has begun sending direct email messages to students, informing them of the policy change, and also maintaining recruitment drives in collaboration with tribal nations.

"We want to honor students' cultural heritage and offer them the same opportunity that other residents are receiving," said Kasey Urquidez, the UA's vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs Advancement, and also the undergraduate admissions dean.

Urquidez also emphasized that the UA has long been committed to supporting American Indian students and will remain supportive of tribal nations statewide.

"It begins at the recruitment phase with early outreach all the way through graduation," Urquidez said. "And UA units are coming together and are dedicated to reaching out to students of all populations, and especially our tribal nations in Arizona. We have changed our model to be very, very focused on helping all students see themselves here and graduating."

Urquidez said programs and initiatives such as the Wisdom Project, a federally funded high school completion and college readiness initiative in partnership with the Baboquivari Unified School District, are greatly enhancing the University's capacity to retain and graduate American Indian students.

At the advanced-degree level, the UA-based Sloan Indigenous Graduate Partnership is a multimillion-dollar effort to increase the number of Native American students in graduate programs, and Knowledge River offers immersive training for librarians who will work with largely American Indian and Hispanic populations. Also, the Native American Research and Training Center recently received a $975,000 federal grant, Indians Into Medicine, or INMED, to help Native American students pursue degrees in medical and health professions.

Other programs, including Native American College Day, the Native American Science and Engineering Program and Native SOAR (Student Outreach, Access and Resiliency), involve youths in the college-going process and campus programs, all to help gain a better understanding of campus life so that they are even more prepared when it is time to pursue a degree.

"We want to make sure we are supporting these students and we are getting there with an integrated approach," Urquidez said.

Training Future Professionals

The policy also makes Arizona more attractive to students who may have had an eye on institutions in states such as California, Colorado and Oklahoma, where they could find access to tuition waivers and in-state tuition, among other supports.

"We were losing students," Leonard said.

The policy change also means that tribal nations will be able to support more students. "Whereas you were only able to support one student in the past, now you are able to support two or three. It allows more opportunities," she said.

Cheyenne Yazzie (Navajo), who is from Tuba City, Arizona, said it would not have been viable to pay for out-of-state tuition and that the new policy has enabled her to pursue her degree at the UA.

"My family has struggled with money, so I never thought college was an option," said Yazzie, a biochemistry major. After earning her degree, Yazzie intends to enlist and make a career out of military service.

Sheilah Allison (Navajo), a physiology major from Mesa, Arizona, also benefits from the exception. Allison wanted to attend the UA but chose to attend Mesa Community College because she could not afford the tuition and cost of living in Tucson. Then she learned about the policy change. 

"My parents have put my other siblings through college, and I did not want to put them further into debt. The policy has enabled me to pay in-state tuition instead of out-of-state, which has been very helpful (with) costs," said Allison, who is also in the family studies and human development program.

After her undergraduate degree, Allison plans to work toward an M.D./M.P.H. degree.

"My dream is to become a primary care physician with a specialization in pediatrics," she said. "As a Diné woman, I also want to give back to the Navajo Nation and serve my people."

Tracey Cayatineto (Navajo), who is from Gallup, New Mexico, was drawn to the UA because of the master's degree in public health practice based at the Phoenix campus. With the residency exception, it is all the more affordable for her.

"When I was considering graduate programs that I would apply to, I had to look at not only the education offered but also the affordability for me and my family," said Cayatineto, a first-year student in the program.

"The residency exception allows me to receive incredible instruction from wonderful faculty in the M.P.H. program at a cost that I am able to afford," she said. "My plans are to take the knowledge, skills and networks that I receive from UA and work with Native American communities to aid in the efforts to increase better health outcomes for Native American populations."

Native SOAR prepared this video in response to the first lady Michelle Obama's Near-Peer Mentoring College Challenge:

Extra info

More information about the residency exception for members of all federally recognized tribes in Arizona:


The revised policy approved by the Arizona Board of Regents states: "For purposes of residency classification, enrollment as a tribal member in a federally recognized Arizona tribe will be sufficient to establish residency for tuition purposes."


Under the policy, American Indian students retain their federally recognized residency; their residency status does not change as they are offered in-state tuition.


To be eligible for in-state tuition under this revision, the student must:

  • Provide proof of being an enrolled tribal member. 
  • Be a member of a tribe, which must be one of Arizona's federally recognized tribes.
  • Be a U.S. citizen, or a lawful permanent resident of the U.S., or have lawful immigration status in the U.S.


Resources for the media

Kasey Urquidez

UA Enrollment Management