Upset by the Bush administration's suggestion that Haskell Indian Junior College students pay tuition to make up for proposed budget cuts, three officials from the college will testify Thursday in front of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
Shawn Braun, student senate president at Haskell, will join Board of Regents Chairman Ray Morgan and Regent Lana Rozler in Washington, D.C., to denounce the tuition proposal and a proposed $1.7 million cut to Haskell's budget for fiscal year '93.
The Bush administration has suggested that Haskell make up for the budget cut by charging its students $500 to $750 a semester for tuition. Students at Haskell currently do not pay tuition or room and board; they do pay a nominal activity fee.
After a student senate meeting Tuesday evening, Braun said he was concerned that many students would not return to Haskell if tuition was charged. Braun, echoing many students and faculty and staff, said he believes the federal government has a trust responsibility to provide education for Native Americans.
BRAUN said a tuition charge may affect the school's diversity. Currently, students from about 140 tribes attend Haskell. If tuition is charged, many students, especially those from distant states, probably would choose to attend school at home, and that would affect Haskell's diversity, Braun said.
"I think that's one of our main unique things the diversity of our student body," Braun said.
In a position paper sent to tribal leaders across the nation, the Board of Regents said the proposed budget cut and proposed tuition "will have far-reaching implications for Indian people. The tuition proposal is tantamount to a major change in policy that the administration is attempting to implement without any consultation with the Board of Regents or Native American people."
THE REGENTS added that "we believe the federal government has a responsibility for the education of Native American people. However, the OMB (Office of Management and Budget) tuition charge proposal is in conflict with this view. This is something that none of us can accept."
In a survey about the proposed tuition charge, 75 percent of students who completed the survey said they would not return to Haskell if they had to pay tuition. About 81 percent of the 280 students who completed the survey said Haskell's policy of not charging tuition was one of the main reasons they came to the Bureau of Indian Affairs school. About 98 percent of the students said that a college education "is very important for the growth and improvement of Indian people."
BRAUN said he was especially concerned about the students' responses to questions about their family incomes. About 65 percent of the students said their families lived below the national poverty line, and 93 percent of the students said their personal income for 1991 was below the national poverty line.
About 400 students have signed a petition circulating across campus that opposes the proposed tuition charge. Jonell Files, a Wright City, Okla., freshman, said her first thought when she heard about the proposal was that she wouldn't be able to afford tuition.
"If we had to pay a tuition, it would take away our opportunity," Files said.
Steven Deyo, a Green Leaf, Wis., freshman, said he comes from a low-income family and believes an education is a way to make a better life for himself.
Because tuition never has been charged at Haskell, Deyo said he was surprised by the proposal.
"It was new to me," Deyo said. "I thought it was pretty well set that Haskell was a school for Indians."