As part of the Washington, D.C., spending bill, Congress last week approved $25.6 million (a $8.7 million, or 50 percent, increase over last year) for a program that covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for D.C. high school graduates at public colleges and universities throughout the United States. Since its creation in fall 2000, the DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DC TAG) has awarded over $63 million to more than 6,500 District students, many of whom are first-generation college attendees.
The brainchild of Representative Thomas M. Davis III (R-VA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), DC TAG was created to “level the playing field” for District residents. The District of Columbia has few public colleges; thus, low- and middle-income District high school graduates have historically had few options. DC TAG provides access to a network of state-supported institutions, giving graduates the opportunity to select from a much broader array of options.
Over a four-year period, the number of D.C. high school graduates who enrolled as freshmen in colleges and universities nationwide increased by 28 percent, from 1,750 in 1998 to 2,230 in 2002, and it is expected that these numbers will continue to grow. Over the same period, the national average increase was only 5 percent.
DC TAG covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for up to $10,000 a year or $50,000 over a lifetime. The program also provides $2,500 a year in tuition assistance to D.C. graduates who attend private colleges and universities in the counties surrounding the District. Finally, D.C. graduates who attend private Historically Black Colleges and Universities farther afield are also eligible for $2,500 annually in tuition assistance.
“These vital grants were threatened by the success of the program,” said Norton. “We cannot allow Congress to underfund TAG, which is already sending more than 6,500 D.C. students to more than 150 public and private colleges nationwide. The 30 percent increase in college attendance and the great success of TAG in stemming catastrophic taxpayers flow out of the city speaks for itself.”
The president is expected to sign the D.C. appropriations bill, which also contains $40 million for a school improvement program. Like last year, the money will be split among public school improvements ($13 million), charter schools ($13 million), and “opportunity scholarships” (i.e., vouchers) to promote school choice ($14 million).
During the current school year, about twelve hundred low-income District students received grants through the choice program of up to $7,500 toward tuition at private schools. However, not all applicants received awards. In fact, only 296 slots were available for the 540 public school students who applied from grades 6-12. For grades in which applicants exceeded available spaces, voucher recipients were selected through a lottery.
More information on DC TAG is available at http://seo.dc.gov/services/post_secondary_financial_assistance/tuition_assistance/index.shtm.