Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lawmakers Fund College Access Program for D.C. Students

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Lawmakers Fund College Access Program for D.C. Students

Article excerpt

A five-year-old program to help District of Columbia students attend college is winning an endorsement from the U.S. Congress and likely will get a major funding increase next year.

The District of Columbia College Access Act allows D.C. high school graduates to pay in-state tuition rates at any public college or university nationwide, with the federal government picking up the difference. Students also can get $2,500 in annual tuition assistance to attend private Black colleges nationwide or private colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C., area. Congress created the program in 1999, but it will terminate soon unless lawmakers grant an extension.

Strong supporters of the program say that since 1999, the number of D.C. high school graduates continuing on to college has increased by 28 percent--five times the national average. "That is an astounding record of success," says Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., chairman of the House Government Reform Committee that oversees the program.

Buoyed by the success, the House of Representatives in July gave the program a five-year extension. Legislation moving on a separate track in the House would provide a 50 percent funding increase to $25 million next year. Senate action on both measures is still pending.

Congress created the program to increase college-going rates in the District and to offer alternatives for D.C. students, since the city lacks the traditional large-scale public university system found in states.

"No city in America faces what the District does--no state government to administer a university system and no financial base to make up the difference," said D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams, who appeared at a recent Capitol Hill hearing.

While the program is not income based--low-income and more affluent families are eligible for the program--supporters claim that the program is reaching an at-risk population and helping them get to college.

"A whole new population of students in the District has been given the opportunity to go to college and they are taking it," said Argelia Rodriguez, executive director of the D.C. College Access Program, which provides college counseling and information about higher education and the D.C. tuition benefit.

To bolster their case, advocates provided Congress with a detailed geographic breakdown of aid recipients. For example, the data shows that the largest users of the program are families in the city's north central and northeast neighborhoods, areas with a mix of low- and middle-income residents. Together, these two areas account for about 36 percent of aid recipients. …

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