FARMINGTON — New Mexico students who are members of the Navajo Nation will be eligible for in-state tuition at Arizona state schools when a new policy takes effect in the spring.

The Arizona Board of Regents is the governing board for the state's public universities -- Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, and the University of Arizona. The regents have approved an amendment of the state's residency classification for tuition purposes that goes into effect for the spring semester.

The revised policy states that the Native American student must be an enrolled member of a federally recognized tribe whose reservation land lies entirely or partially in Arizona. Students who are enrolled members of one of the sovereign Arizona federally recognized tribes will be eligible for in-state tuition, regardless of where they live in the United States.

This means a Navajo student who graduates from a high school located on the reservation, whether it is in Arizona, New Mexico or Utah, can receive in-state tuition.

In order to be eligible for in-state tuition under the revision, the student must provide proof of being an enrolled tribal member and they must be a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

For Navajo tribal members, proof of enrollment is the Certificate of Indian Blood issued by the tribe's Office of Vital Records.

Regents hope that revising the policy will provide an incentive for Native American students attending colleges outside of Arizona to return to the state.

The revision would also allow residents who are attending two-year tribal colleges outside of Arizona to transfer to a four-year college within the state.

Regent LuAnn Leonard said in a press release that due to the lack of infrastructure on tribal lands, many Native Americans move from the reservation to work and attend school.

"By approving these policy changes, the board acknowledged this reality for Arizona tribes while ensuring that students who have been moved away know that our universities are working to welcome them back home," she said.

Leonard chairs the Academic Affairs Committee, which approved the revisions in September.

Rose Graham, director of the Office of Navajo Nation Scholarship and Financial Assistance, said the revised policy "greatly expands" higher education opportunities for Navajo students.

It also helps Navajo students who reside on the reservation but have an off-reservation mailing address because their communities may not have a post office or their parents rent mailboxes in border towns.

Under the former policy, those students would have to provide proof of residence on tribal lands, triggering a long, drawn out appeal process in order to qualify for state tuition, Graham said.

"College officials were not fully aware of the situations faced by students living on the Navajo Nation," she said.

Approximately 4,200 Native Americans are enrolled as either undergraduate or graduate students at one of the state universities in Arizona, according to the Arizona Board of Regents.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636. nsmith@daily-times.com Follow her @nsmithdt on Twitter.