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WI Project to Create Financial Aid Tool for Native College Students

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Indigenous college students face many obstacles in higher education, including overwhelming costs and not feeling culturally connected on campus.

Those behind a Wisconsin project say another barrier is not having support in seeking financial aid. The University of Wisconsin-Madison's Student Success Through Applied Research Lab is using a $500,000 foundational grant to create a "one-stop-shop" for Indigenous students to find scholarship programs and other forms of financial relief specifically geared to them.

Gresham Collom, education policy researcher at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, incoming assistant professor at St. Cloud State University and co-leader of the project, said the searchable database seeks to create more awareness that slipped by him when he was a college student.

"I'm a first descendant member of the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Tribe, which means I'm not a formally enrolled member," Collom explained. "A lot of these scholarship policies are based on formal enrollment in a federally recognized tribe."

He later found out when his sister was enrolling, there were a handful of schools in the U.S. with free tuition programs for first descendant Native Americans. Collom argued as more states add scholarship and grant initiatives, students need up-to-date information.

Wisconsin does not have a tuition waiver for Native American students, but it does offer need-based grants for those who are at least 25% Native American.

Collom hopes the effort compels more higher-ed institutions to expand opportunities and update policies, which he added can go beyond traditional financial aid.

"A lot of Indigenous students come from low-income areas where they have Pell Grant funding," Collom pointed out. "What I would like to see is a lot of these programs expand their offerings to cover costs like child care, health care, basic cost of living."

He added "wraparound" issues often get in the way of Indigenous students advancing their college careers.

Collom predicted the database will not only be web-friendly, but mobile-friendly, too, knowing many Native students come from tribal areas with limited access to high-speed internet.

Support for this reporting was provided by Lumina Foundation.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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