COMMENTARY: Students, be thankful for your fortune

by Oct 22, 2018OPINIONS





Sitting in a Tribal Council discussion over changes in educational funding policy got me thinking. The issues were over whether to pay for students’ parking as a part of the Tribe’s funding for college students to attend classes and how well the Education division may have notified those affected. Recently, the policy changed to not pay for parking, which at some schools can be upwards of $750 per year. Students could pay for such out of discretionary funds of $1,000 per semester (with most students that’s $2,000 yearly).

The discussion got a little heated as Tribal Council members discussed exactly what the Tribe should be paying for. I can’t help but remember my days as a college student.

What did the Tribe pay for me when I started going to college in 1988? Nothing, I didn’t get a dime from it. My father paid my tuition, gave me a place to stay and kept feeding me. I paid for my books and anything else. I did that by working part-time. Some of my work was in restaurant kitchens and a grocery store, but much of it was in my school’s landscape services. I mowed, weedeated, used a heavy backpack leaf blower and laid sod grass filled with fire ants, oftentimes in 100-degree weather to earn minimum wage to take care of expenses.

As for parking, the situation at my alma-mater is much worse now than it was 25 years ago, but it was scarce then. I rode my bike for the most part. It was the best way to get around on campus and be able to park close to classes.

My middle brother, who had to earn a doctoral-level degree to practice in his field, didn’t get any tribal funding either. His came from the U.S. Army and student loans. My youngest brother started college and then ultimately opted to become a certified mechanic, also without tribal assistance.

When I heard how much tribal members who are college students get from the Tribe, it blew my mind. Tuition, books, housing, meals are all paid for, plus they get the discretionary fund, and on top of that, they can earn bonuses from the Tribe for getting good grades.

None of this would likely be possible were it not for the casinos. It’s unquestionably been one of the great benefits to our tribe to be able to educate so many people. It’s opened doors, and it’s allowed us to truly assert our sovereignty.

However, it may have also led to a mindset among a few to expect every little thing to come along with college to be paid for. There are some things that tribal education, shouldn’t pay for, sorority and fraternity dues for example. Parking has been one of those things that education has decided that they won’t pay for (which most campuses won’t allow for freshmen anyway), something that’s becoming a luxury even for faculty at some schools. But some of the items parents have been told that education won’t pay for (yes, they’ve been asked to pay for these things) are: late fees for library books, utilities, car maintenance, gasoline, parking tickets, moving costs and clothing. These are items to be covered in the discretionary funds students get or better still, money they earn by working outside of their class hours.

It’s great that the Tribe has the money to send people to college, however one thing needs to be understood. It’s not an endless pot of money. The costs that education has to bear include growing numbers of students, increasing tuition, increasing costs of materials and books and increasing housing costs. All these things create a financial strain, even for a wealthy tribe.

Most college students are adults, legally. They may not exercise good judgment, nor make decisions that are pleasing in their parents’ eyes in their late teens and early 20s, but they are adults. The Tribe already does way more for college students than it did in my day, which was before the casinos.

Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed said this. “We’re supposed to be helping our children transition into adulthood, paying for everything else.” At some point people are going to have to take responsibility, and it’s better to learn that at age 18 than at age 40.

While getting the best notice or communications about any changes regarding the process, or what they’ll fund are reasonable expectations, we also need to understand how fortunate we are as a tribe to be able to do this for college students. These students will graduate with no student loan debt, and they’ll get a little extra money just for graduating. That’s definitely worth some gratitude. With the tribe my grandparents knew, this wouldn’t have been possible, not in their wildest dreams. To tribal education, the tribal government and casinos, thank you. If we’re still able to do this when my children go to college, I’ll be even more thankful.