As a student at Haskell Indian Nations University (HINU) I don’t want my concerns swept under the rug because “it’s just $475”, and “where are you going to find a better deal for your education?” This kind of thinking shouldn’t be used to invalidate student concerns.
Students at HINU have been very vocal about the change in fall semester fees which were updated by the university on June 25, but made public by an Indian Leader Facebook post. The Student Government Association (SGA) promptly advocated for students by sending a letter to the HINU administration. However, following student concerns, some are insisting that students should be grateful for the low cost of attendance.
Haskell Alumnus Stace Loca commented and shared an Indian Leader Facebook post, “Quit complaining or go somewhere else, find a better deal! Move on…” and addressed the current students who are self advocating, “These current Haskell students are such cry babies, they don’t appreciate ANYTHING!!”
The narrative appears to be that “us students” are just complaining about $475, which is far from the truth. We are complaining that the school is adding to new COVID-19 related financial burdens and that our school doesn’t communicate or work with the students.
HINU reports 80% of students live on-campus during a normal year, and the HINU Net Price Calculator shows a yearly cost of attendance of $8,550 for those living on-campus. The decision to close down residence halls has forced an estimated 580 students to either live at home if that’s an option or get an apartment. The Net Price Calculator estimates an increase of $1,150 in cost of attendance to those now living at home, and an increase of $8,622 for those who’ve had to find their own housing.
That is 80% of students who have seen or will see an increase to their cost of attendance at HINU just from shutting down the dorms. This doesn’t even factor into account COVID-19 related expenses. The SGA wrote a letter to the Haskell Administration stating, “Since the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, Indian Country has been hit the hardest. Combined with mass unemployment, every dollar counts, now more than ever.”
With dramatic increases in yearly costs of attendance, some estimated at as much as 101%, many students were looking forward to the small concession of getting to pay off-campus fees of $240. But in the recent university update, online fees have increased would-be fees by 198%, totaling $715.
Sudden student financial burdens can’t be alleviated by student loans either. When I called the Office of Financial Aid inquiring about student loans for myself, I was told by “No, we don’t participate in student loans at Haskell… The school fees are so low, there is no rationale for that.”
It’s not just the financial aspects that have students concerned; the lack of messaging to students has students feeling uneasy. Fall semester fees were silently updated on the university website on June 25 and they did not issue a statement to students regarding these changes. Some students have recently reached out to the Indian Leader noticing that they’ve been charged $360 for summer school fees, despite the website listing off-campus tuition at $120 during that term. HINU is not being transparent or upfront updating students.
HINU pitfalls with communication and semester fees are only heightened by comparing it to the response by Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), the only other Bureau of Indian Education (BIE) operated Tribal College and University (TCU). SIPI waived fees and is offering technology assistance for their fall trimester. This has led to questions as to how each university may have received different guidance from the BIE.
Questions from students, the Indian Leader, Lawrence Journal World, and the SGA have gone unanswered prompting SGA Executive Vice President Will Wilkinson to post, “Haskell has an unhealthy habit of being silent whenever people ask the tough questions. That needs to end now.”
All these numbers have personal consequences. As I’m entering my final year at HINU, I’m past the point of changing universities. I just signed a lease with two other HINU students because the dorms are closed and my annual cost of attendance has jumped from $8,550 to $17,172 — so it’s not just $475. I have to cover those new costs somehow, and I wasn’t prepared for the cost of my education to double.
These new fees may also impact the Indian Leader. Removal of activity fees which help fund the Indian Leader, may mean we don’t receive fall funding. The Indian Leader has played a large part in getting information to students, and since the university has not been sending students statements, we are needed now more than ever to break the silence. Decisions by the HINU administration have rippling consequences that are most felt by the students, and it’s time for students to feel they are supported by their university.
Authors Note: All calculations for the Net Price Calculator were input with the author’s personal data, and does not represent every student‘s estimated cost of attendance, but allows a side by side comparison of the difference between cost differences. In addition, the Net Price Calculator has not been updated by the university to show current academic year estimates.