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New University of Oregon program will cover tuition and fees for in-state Indigenous students

The goal is to combat three issues faced by Indigenous students: financial hardships, academic difficulties and lack of cultural connectedness.

Cover Image Source : homeflight.uoregon.edu/
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The University of Oregon recently announced a new program that will cover tuition and fees for Indigenous tribal members residing in Oregon. The school celebrated National Indigenous Peoples' Day with the launch of the Home Flight Scholars Program, which will immediately allow the 150 to 175 eligible self-identified American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) undergraduate students on campus to receive financial assistance. According to a press release from the university, the goal of the program is to combat the three biggest issues Indigenous students face: financial hardships, academic difficulties and the lack of cultural connectedness.

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"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 school's interim president Patrick Phillips said in the release. While Oregon already has a program that covers tuition and other fees for Indigenous students who are members of the state's nine federally recognized tribes, the Home Flight Scholars Program expands on that by offering to cover fees for any in-state student who is a part of one of the 574 federally recognized tribes throughout the entire country.

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"With Home Flight, we can provide academic and social guidance that will compliment tribal educational values," the university's assistant vice president Jason Younker said in the release. "We hope that each graduate will consider returning to their home reservations and become future stewards and leaders within their communities. 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."

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Younker joined the university as its first formal governmental liaison to the nine federally-recognized tribes of Oregon and is a member of the Coquille Indian Tribe. He lead efforts to pitch and develop the Home Flights program. In addition to covering tuition and other fees, the Home Flight Scholars Program has also created a new American Indian/Alaska Native Academic Adviser position and will provide a variety of services including mentorship and counseling to tribal jobs and future graduate study opportunities. Students can apply for the program starting October 17.

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"It's a huge deal," Megan Lynn Van Pelt, a 22-year-old student and co-director of the university's Native American Student Union, told CNN. "It means being a normal student for once. Overall I'm really happy. We shouldn't be worrying about fees, we should be worrying about homework and finals. Van Pelt, a member of the Confederated Tribe of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and a recipient of the Oregon Tribal Student Grant, explained that while she will not need the Home Flight scholarship, she knows many students who do. "This should be implemented everywhere," she said. "Even during my community college experiences, students were struggling to make ends meet. This will not only benefit first generation students, but also think about how many nontraditional students will be returning to school because of the UO Flight program."

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