President Donald Trump is making a third attempt to eliminate the Higher Education Grant Program, which is administered by the Dept. of Interior and provides federal funding for scholarships to tribes, including the Navajo Nation through a P.L. 93-638 contract. The Trump Administration zeroed out funding for tribal scholarships in the FY 2021 federal budget released on Monday.
“I absolutely disagree with the budget proposal put forth, but the Navajo Nation has tremendous support from House and Senate members who will stand with us to support Navajo students and funding for college,” Navajo Nation President Jonathan Nez said. “This week, I, along with members of the 24th Navajo Nation Council, are on Capitol Hill meeting with members of Congress to convey our concerns for scholarship funding and much more to help our future generations.”
Rose Graham, director of the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance (ONNSFA), is also hopeful that Congress once again rejects the Trump administration’s attempt to eliminate the Higher Education Grant Program as it did in 2019 and 2020.
“The Trump administration has made it abundantly clear that it is not interested in providing support to Native Americans seeking a college education,” said Ms. Graham. “It appears the Trump administration is doing its best to keep a college degree out of reach of Native Americans.”
The Higher Education Grant Program helps undergraduate students, who are determined to have a financial need. A majority of the students served by ONNSFA fall into that category. Need-based students receive $2,500 per term, which helps students cover the balance of tuition and fees, room and board, textbooks, and transportation costs.
Federal funds, provided through the Higher Education Grant to the Navajo Nation, made up more than 53 percent or $13.4 million of the $25.3 million awarded to students in 2019. Other sources of funding included Navajo Nation funds of $10 million, Trust funds of $1.3 million, and Corporate funds of $545,606.
“Navajo students already face tremendous challenges when they seek a college degree,” Ms. Graham said. “Many could not afford a college education without the support provided through the Higher Education Grant Program.”
The Higher Education Grant Program is a highly effective program that provides funds for undergraduates. An average of 1,291 Navajo students attain college credentials, including Associate degrees, Bachelor’s degrees or certificates each year. An average of 117 students attains Master’s or Doctorate degrees each year. Navajo Nation funds are used to provide awards to students in this category.
A majority of students served by ONNSFA attend colleges and universities within the Four Corners region – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado. A single undergraduate student living on campus may expect to pay $30,628 per year at Arizona State University, $28,396 per year at Northern Arizona University, $25,374 per year at Fort Lewis College and $22,912 per year at the University of New Mexico.
“Our students need every available financial-aid resource to attain a college education even if it’s a fraction of the total cost of attendance,” said Ms. Graham. She speculates that the Trump Administration’s rationale for eliminating the Higher Education Grant Program is to make student loans a primary source of funding for college.
“We do not encourage students to take loans,” Ms. Graham said. “There are too many people who are not able to retire due to huge student loan debts that have not been paid off.”
Ms. Graham said the office is currently working to secure Forward Funding for the Higher Education Grant Program so that federal funds are provided to tribes well before students begin school.
“It will take a concerted effort to get Congress to restore funds for the Higher Education Grant Program and institute Forward Funding,” Ms. Graham said.
“Students and parents are encouraged to email or call members of Congress and ask that funds are restored for the Higher Education Grant Program,” she said. “More than 13,000 students submit applications to ONNSFA for financial aid. They can make a significant impact.”
Visit http://www.usa.gov to find out how to contact your Members of Congress.
Feb 12, 2019