University of Oregon and Eastern Oregon University announce programs supporting Native American students

By Meerah Powell (OPB)
Oct. 10, 2022 11:38 p.m. Updated: Oct. 11, 2022 12:05 a.m.

With those announcements, all of Oregon’s public universities now offer programs focused on supporting Native American students.

By the end of Indigenous Peoples’ Day all of Oregon’s public universities had programs moving forward aimed at giving financial support to Native American students.

Both the University of Oregon and Eastern Oregon University announced programs Monday, following Oregon’s five other public universities that made similar strides in the past few months.


University of Oregon’s Home Flight Scholars Program differs from what’s offered at the other public universities, with a focus on students in the state, rather than those living elsewhere in the country. UO’s program will cover full tuition and fees, and provide advising and mentorship opportunities for Native American undergraduate students at UO. Eligible students must be enrolled members of one of the 574 federally recognized tribes and be Oregon residents. Money for the program comes from a combination of federal, state and institutional grants.

“The university is dedicated to the success of Oregon’s American Indian/Alaska Native students,” Interim UO President Patrick Phillips said in a statement. “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 program is immediately available to the roughly 150 to 175 Native American undergraduate students at UO who are Oregon residents, contingent on their eligibility.

UO developed the program with its Native American Advisory Council, according to the university.

Five Oregon public universities previously announced programs that offer in-state tuition to Native American students enrolled in any federally recognized tribe, regardless of where they live. Eastern Oregon University’s newly announced program follows that model.

“EOU has provided scholarship support to Native American students for many years,” Genesis Meaderds, EOU Director of Admissions, said in a statement. “Our new tuition policy helps expand the university’s work to many indigenous people across the country.”


UO program offers mentorship, professional opportunities along with financial support

Along with help covering tuition and fees, the UO program creates an academic advisor position specifically for Native American students. The program will provide opportunities such as professional conferences and tribal job or internship fairs. It also provides faculty and peer mentorship and continues ongoing academic support for students who live in the university’s Kalapuya Ilihi residence hall in the Native American and Indigenous Studies Academic Residential Community.

Megan Van Pelt is a resident assistant for that residential community and co-director of the university’s Native American Student Union.

She’s also a recipient of the Oregon Tribal Student Grant, a new state grant covering tuition and living expenses for college students who are members of Oregon’s federally recognized tribes. That grant is only funded through the current academic year and will need reauthorization from the Oregon Legislature to continue.

Van Pelt spoke with OPB last month about the impact of that grant. She still has another year left at UO after this current school year. After learning of UO’s new program, Van Pelt said she’s relieved to know she won’t have to worry about how to pay for the rest of her undergraduate expenses.

“I remember my first year I actually wanted to drop out because I couldn’t afford to be here, and that’s a scary thought,” Van Pelt said Monday during a media event at UO. “This is why this is so important, and especially on Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”

Jason Younker, the chief of the Coquille tribe and a UO assistant vice president, spoke Monday about the impact of the new program on students and Indigenous communities.

“We’re very, very cognizant of who is on campus and why we are supporting them through their education because it makes a difference in the future,” Younker said. “They are our future stewards. They will come back to the tribes, and they will be the U of O allies. They will be our future leaders. It is so important for them to have the necessary support that they need while they are going to school.”

According to data from Oregon’s Higher Education Coordinating Commission, fewer Native American students enroll in college after graduating from high school compared to their non-Native peers.

In 2020, about 49% of Native American high school graduates enrolled in college within 16 months of earning diplomas. That compares to roughly 63% of white students and 79% of Asian students.