More Navajo students will get a head start on college following the Bureau of Indian Affairs' recent approval of a $750,000 boost for scholarships and financial aid.

The money will pay for an additional 200 undergraduate students to attend a semester of college, said Rose Graham, director of the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance.

"It's distributed on a first-come, first-served basis," she said. "As long as Navajos have a census number, they qualify."

The funds are first distributed to the five regional scholarship offices on the Nation, based on the number of students served, said Kay Nave-Mark, senior financial aid councilor for the Shiprock Agency of the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance.

The Shiprock office received 20 percent of the funds — or $150,000 — to award for the spring semester. The office awarded scholarships or financial aid to more than 700 students this fall, Nave-Mark said, and it plans to extend aid to an additional 75 students for spring semester.

In addition to its appropriation for financial aid, the BIA released $100,000 for the Navajo Scholarship Program's information technology initiative. The office will use the funds to make its database accessible by the Internet, Nave-Mark said.

"Now, we have an automated processing system, and we have a Web site that has information on it," she said, "but you have to download the application, fill it out and fax it in.



A database upgrade will allow students to apply for scholarships or financial aid online and check the status of their applications, Nave-Mark said. The office plans to unveil its new database this fall so students can file applications online for spring semester.

Despite the BIA's financial boost, the Nation needs more money allocated for education, said George Hardeen, spokesman for Navajo Nation President Joe Shirley Jr.

"Whenever President Shirley meets with chapter leaders, he always advocates for more money for scholarships," he said. "Education is very badly underfunded. A lot of Navajo students have little money on their own, and historically, there's not enough money to go around."

Financial aid is determined by colleges and universities, Graham said, and the office awards funds ranging from $500 per semester for students determined not to have financial need to $3,500 per semester for students who qualify for the prestigious Chief Manuelito Scholarship. About 75 high school students earned the Chief Manuelito Scholarship this year. The maximum award for students determined to have financial need is $2,000 per semester.

Graduate students are awarded on a financial-need basis, up to $5,000 per semester.

The application deadline for scholarships or financial aid for spring semester is Nov. 27 at 5 p.m. Application forms can be downloaded from Applicants must show proof of Indian blood and submit transcripts and a letter of admission from an accredited college or university.

Alysa Landry: