PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – On Indigenous Peoples Day Monday, the University of Oregon launched a new program that uses grant money to cover full tuition and fee costs for American Indian and Alaska Native undergraduate students. 

The funding from the Home Flight Scholars Program was made available immediately to an estimated 150 to 175 self-identified AIAN undergraduate students who are Oregon residents and who are eligible for the program. 

The program also uses federal, state and institutional grants to create a new academic advisor position for AIAN students, enhance mentorship opportunities and develop a culture-rich program for new students to help them have successful academic careers. 

The UO partnered with the UO Native American Advisory Council to build the program and to recognize the cultural and academic challenges AIAN students often experience. 

“The university is dedicated to the success of Oregon’s American Indian/Alaska Native students,” Interim UO President Patrick Phillips said in a press release. “The Home Flight Scholars Program tackles the unique challenges these students face and prepares them to graduate with an education and the experience that empowers them to return home and make a positive impact in their communities and for their families.” 

The UO said there are three major factors that affect the success of AIAN students: financial hardships, academic difficulties and the lack of cultural connectedness.

The Home Flight Scholars Program addresses these issues and incorporates wrap-around services that support student retention and graduation by providing them with financial assistance, improved counseling and academic services, and professional development. 

Once state and federal grant money runs out for the program, the UO said it will waive remaining tuition and fees for Oregon residents who are enrolled citizens of any of the 574 federally recognized tribes. 

“With Home Flight, we can provide academic and social guidance that will complement tribal educational values. We hope that each graduate will consider returning to their home reservations and become future stewards and leaders within their communities,” said Jason Younker, the assistant vice president and advisor to the president on sovereignty and government-to-government relations. 

Younker said the university is taking the next step in removing financial barriers for AIAN students. 

“Most of us have grown up wondering whether we were going to be able to afford college, or whether going to college or staying home is our choice. But each of us has had ancestors that sacrificed and survived so that we could have the choices that we do today. The choice should be where to go to college, not if we can go to college,” he said. 

Data from the Postsecondary National Policy Institute show that less than half, 41 percent, of first-time, full-time Native American students attending four-year institutions graduate within 6 years. More than half of the students drop out of four-year colleges.