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LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR DC GRADUATES: Congressional Committee Reviews DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program

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"Quite simply, were it not for this program, thousands of DC families could not have afforded to sends their sons and daughters to college," said Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams (D).

Since its creation in fall 2000, the Washington, DC Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DC TAG) has awarded over $63 million to more than 6,500 Washington DC 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 covers the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition rates for DC high school graduates at public colleges and universities throughout the United States.

According to Representative Davis, who chairs the House Committee on Government Reform, DC TAG was created to “level the playing field” for DC residents. The District of Columbia has few public colleges; thus, low and middle income DC high school graduates had few options. DC TAG provides access to a network of state-supported institutions, giving DC graduates the opportunity to select from a much broader array of options.

“Quite simply, were it not for this program, thousands of DC families could not have afforded to sends their sons and daughters to college,” said Washington, DC Mayor Anthony Williams (D), in testimony at a hearing last month before the Government Reform Committee. Mayor Williams credited the DC TAG program for sending more DC residents to college than ever before. Over a four year period, the number of DC 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. “Students have attended more than 300 institutions in 46 states,” Williams said, “including nationally recognized public institutions like the University of Virginia, the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, and the University of California-Berkeley.”

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 DC graduates who attend private colleges and universities in the counties surrounding the District. Finally, DC graduates who attend private Historically Black Colleges and Universities farther afield are also eligible for $2,500 annually in tuition assistance.

The initial legislation authorized five years of funding, during which the program has received $17 million annually. With the authorization set to expire after next year, Davis and Norton introduced H.R. 4012 to reauthorize the DC College Access Act. Because the program enjoys tremendous bipartisan support, Davis is hopeful that the program will see renewal this year.

Because of the popularity of the program, Mayor Williams has requested an additional $8.6 million in additional funding in the reauthorization, to allow DC TAG to continue awarding the same level of benefits as in the past to new graduates. However, Davis doubts that much additional funding is likely. “I hope we can get a little more,” he said. “It’s a tight budget year.”

More information on the DC TAG program is available athttp://seo.dc.gov/services/post_secondary_financial_assistance/tuition_assistance/index.shtm.

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.