New legislation being introduced in Madison would provide any Native tribal member in the nation with an opportunity to attend school in the University of Wisconsin system at the cost of in-state tuition.

The bill was introduced by Reps. Nick Milroy, D-South Range, and Jeff Mursau, R-Crivitz, and Sen. Jeff Smith, D-Brunswick.

Eligibility for the lower cost tuition require recipients to meet all admission standards and to be enrolled with a tribe recognized by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

“The number of American Indian students attending the UW System has declined by nearly half in the last 10 years, while enrollment of all other minority populations has increased,” Mursau said. “I am hopeful this bill will remove a barrier and attract more American Indian students to pursue their studies in Wisconsin.”

Kat Werchouski, assistant director of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Wisconsin-Superior and member of Red Cliff Band, said legislation like this is crucial for numerous reasons.

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“It removes barriers often encountered by indigenous students when trying to pursue advanced degrees,” Werchouski said. “It is far too often that I have to stand by the sides of students who are facing decisions about paying tuition versus rent, buying food, helping their families or simply stopping their dream of bettering themselves through education. Supporting and passing this would be a game changer across Wisconsin and higher education.”

Granting in-state tuition will remove a barrier to higher education and increase diversity on UW System campuses, and is a step toward reconciliation, Milroy said.

“Throughout the 19th century, individuals from many of these tribal nations were forcibly removed or coerced to leave their homelands by the United States government,” said Milroy. “Many of these ancestral tribal members originally called Wisconsin home.”

Many have worked for years to receive this small concession for citizens of First Nations, said Patty Loew, professor emeritus of UW-Extension and member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe.

“I wholeheartedly endorse passage of a new exemption for students who are members of tribal entities recognized by and eligible for funding and services from the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs,” Loew said.

“Now, more than ever, our campuses need to recognize the contributions and benefits of tribal members pursuing an affordable higher education degree,” said Senator Smith. “This commonsense bill opens the door for more tribal member students to attend Wisconsin’s world-class public universities. Not only will this legislation provide a great opportunity for First Nation students, but it will also enrich the academic experience for all students on campus.”