Northern Utes: Tuition break ‘great opportunity’ |

Northern Utes: Tuition break ‘great opportunity’

Northern Ute Nation members are applauding Colorado Mountain College’s decision to charge in-district tuition for tribe members, regardless of residency.

“It’ll be a great opportunity for the kids,” said Larry Cesspooch, public relations director for the 3,600-strong Northern Ute Nation at Fort Duchesne, Utah. “We want to give them the opportunity to learn.”

Pam Burwell of the Alpine Campus in Steamboat Springs has been working with the Northern Ute Nation for two years, and hopes to make contact with the other two tribes – the Ute Mountain Utes and Southern Utes.

Burwell has worked with Northern Utes on a couple of levels. She helps administer a Ute-sponsored nonprofit program that recruits Ute teens to work on Forest Service projects in western Colorado.

The program helps Utes return to their ancestral homeland, “and they come out of it with some money,” she said. “It’s a neat program.”

Ultimately, CMC wants to offer a Native American studies program and work with the Utes on developing a cultural exchange program, said CMC spokesperson Joe Marquez.

“Eventually, we might initiate distance learning with interactive video or web courses,” Marquez continued.

The Colorado Mountain College district covers land where Ute Indians lived until the federal government evicted many of them to Utah following the 1879 Meeker Massacre. For the past few years, college officials have been trying to work more closely with the Utes.

The trustees’ recent decision to offer in-district tuition to the three Ute tribes was a major step in helping the Native Americans attend college. It will also boost the college’s total enrollment.

In-district tuition for a typical full-time student is $840 per year, compared to $1,980 for out-of-district students and $6,450 for out-of-state.

Marquez said the college will work to recruit Utes.

Cesspooch said Utes’ blood quantum must be 5/8 to qualify for nation membership. That membership can be established at birth, or members can be enrolled later on if they prove they qualify. Marquez said the college will also hold to the 5/8 standard.

Burwell applauded the tuition change, and indicated it could lead to more Utes attending CMC. At the same time, she also noted that many Utes will be the first from their family to attend college.

“That (situation) requires a good mentor program … but people are very interested in making this work.”

Starting out at a big, four year college can prove difficult for some Utes. “They have a hard time,” Burwell said. “In a four-year college they just get lost, and the dropout rates are very high. A two-year college like CMC can be a go-between.”

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