Earlier this year, Arizona Sen. Kyrsten Sinema led a resolution in Congress that declared the week of Feb. 28 as National Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs) Week. Now we need her leadership to go beyond commemorations by supporting President Joe Biden’s proposal to make two years at community colleges and tribal colleges tuition-free.
While many members of Congress are affluent and far from the realities most students face, Sinema received a Pell grant to go to college. Like Sinema’s family, my family also could not afford to help pay for tuition as prices rose each year. Being Dinè, my elders empathized with the importance of higher education growing up. But how could I chase my dreams of college when I could not afford it?
The cost of college is rising because states like Arizona have cut funding for colleges significantly while federal funding has remained stagnant. Since TCUs rely more on public funding for their budgets, funding cuts have disproportionately hurt Indigenous students like me. The rising costs of tuition are why I delayed the start of college, and now have to take out loans to attend.
Today, I enter the classroom as a 32-year-old student at Tohono O’odham Community College. While my story may seem exceptional, the statistics show that my reality as an older, working student with debt is now the norm across the country.
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