Native American Students Can Attend The University of California System Tuition-Free

Native American Woman sitting in a brown grass field

As a Native American, I was excited to read that the University of California system will waive college tuition and student service fees beginning in fall 2022 for Native American students who are state residents and members of federally recognized tribes. Native Americans are among the most underrepresented groups in higher education. In 2021, out of the 45,000 students enrolled in the University of California system, only .5 percent were Native American.

The initiative is part of the University of California’s Native American Opportunity Plan. The plan is meant to encourage student diversity and to make the university “more affordable and accessible” for Native American students, system president Dr. Michael V. Drake explained.

Native American College Tuition Eligibility Requirements

To be eligible for the Native American Opportunity Plan, students must meet all of the following criteria:

  1. Must be a current or newly admitted University of California undergraduate, graduate, or professional school student.
  2. Must be a California Resident.
  3. Must be an enrolled member in a federally recognized Native American, American Indian, and/or Alaska Native tribe.
  4. Must be enrolled in a qualifying UC degree program.

You don’t need to fill out a separate application to qualify for the Native American Opportunity Plan. UC will reach out directly to new and continuing students who might be eligible with instructions. Documentation of tribal enrollment may include any of the following:

  • Certification of tribal enrollment on tribal letterhead.
  • Enrollment/membership card that contains the tribal seal and/or official signature of a tribal leader.
  • Certificate of Degree of Indian Blood (CDIB) if the CDIB includes tribal enrollment information.
  • Tribal identification card with an enrollment number. You must also submit tribal contact information (address, phone, and email) if it is not evident on the submitted documentation.

Whenever I applied for a Native American Scholarship, to prove that I was Native and with a federally recognized tribe, I used either my, tribal identification card with my enrollment number or certification of tribal enrollment on tribal letterhead or both. I’ve never had to get a CDIB.

Native American Students Not Apart of A Federally Recognized Tribe

If you are a member of a tribe that is not federally recognized, you may still be able to get funding through the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria Scholarship Fund (FIGR). FIGR’s UC Scholarship provides in-state systemwide Tuition and Student Services Fees and Campus Fees for students who are California Native Americans but not members of a federally recognized tribe. The scholarship applies to undergraduate and graduate students for professional and non-professional degrees. Applications for the 2022-2023 academic year are due by July 15.

This Is What The Program Covers For Native Americans

Once a Native American student is accepted at any UC system college the program will cover tuition and student service fees for undergraduate and graduate students. Again, you must be members of federally recognized Native American and/or Alaska Native tribes.

Tuition for new undergraduate students who are California residents is approximately $13,104 for the 2022-23 school year. Tuition and student fees are the ONLY cost covered. Housing, meals, transportation, books, etc. are NOT covered.

Housing Costs Are Your Highest Costs

As I mentioned in previous articles, How To Pay For College Without Student Loans, your housing cost is your highest cost when going to college. It is higher than tuition. While it’s exciting to have your tuition paid for, if you don’t live near a UC campus where you can live at home or with a family member, it could cost you a lot of money for room and board. I want you to be wise and not go into debt while earning your degree. If you live near a state college and can live at home while going to college it may be cheaper. Run the numbers to see.

Each campus is different therefore, the cost varies. However, the estimated average cost of attending UC as an in-state resident is $38,504. This includes housing, meals, transportation, supplies, and fees. As a student, you will be responsible for approximately, $23,000 a year in housing and other costs. Times this by the 4 years it will take you to earn your bachelor’s degree and that’s a total of $92,000. I’m not trying to scare you, I want you to understand that it’s not completely free. As I mentioned before if you can live at home or with a family member that will be your biggest savings. You can drop that $92,000 down to $20,800. That means instead of coming up with $23,000 a year you’d only have to come up with $5,200! Now can you see the massive amount of money you save by living at home?

A Chart of the Cost of UC tuition for Native Americans and California Residence

Native American Federally Recognized Tribes

There are 109 federally recognized tribes in California out of 574 nationwide. California has the second largest population of American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States.

Not sure if you are from a federally recognized tribe? Here is a list of Federally-Recognized Tribes in California.

What Universities Can I Attend

Native American students will be able to choose from nine universities. University of California schools, also known as UCs and are public 4-year institutions that are located across the state of California.

Each school has its own variety of degrees and specialties offered. Each UC also has different acceptance rates. For more information on UC admissions, click on the following 9 UC campuses below:

  1. UC Davis, 1 Shields Ave, Davis, CA 95616
  2. UC Berkley, 110 Sproul Hall, Berkeley, CA 94720
  3. UC Santa Cruz, 1156 High St, Santa Cruz, CA 95064
  4. UC Merced, 5200 Lake Rd, Merced, CA 95343
  5. UC Riverside, 900 University Ave, Riverside, CA 92521
  6. UC Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA 90095
  7. UC Irvine, 401 E. Peltason Drive, Suite 3200, Irvine, CA 92617
  8. UC San Diego,  9500 Gilman Dr. La Jolla, CA 92093

*I left out UC San Francisco because it is a graduate and professional school only.

Quarters vs Semesters

Almost all colleges adhere to one of two types of academic calendars: semester or quarter. Semesters are the most common. According to, approximately 90% of colleges use semesters. A semester is generally 14 to 17 weeks in length. Schedules for final exams are preset for the last week of the semester. A quarter, used by less than 10% of colleges, is generally 10 to 11 weeks. Final exams are also preset for the last week of the quarter. All UC schools work on quarters.

Obviously, the major difference between these two academic calendars is the length. Semesters are about a month longer than quarters. This difference in duration is what makes it difficult to transfer from a college that runs on the opposite academic calendar. For students who start on quarters and then want to transfer to a college that runs on semesters, it is commonly challenging because you might end up with fewer credits than you need for your program of study. Take this into consideration when deciding on attending a UC college. If you ever want to leave the UC and go to another college it may not be a smooth transition.

If You Need Help Or Guidance Reach Out To Me

As a Native American, I am passionate about helping other Natives reach their academic goals. If you need guidance, support, or help with anything—college admissions process, applications, picking out classes, deciding on a major, filling out scholarships, etc., please fill out the Contact page. Mention you’re Native and give me a brief description of what you need help or support with. We can chat, collaborate, or work through whatever you need.

New Mexico is offering free college tuition for Native American students through its Opportunity Scholarship. The Opportunity Scholarship is also available to adjacent Native American Reservations that border New Mexico. This includes the Ute Mountain Utes, Southern Utes, and Navajo. Check out this article, Free College For All New Mexico Residence.