D.C. Tuition Bill Extends Reach to All HBCUs

D.C. Tuition Bill Extends Reach to All HBCUs

Residents of the District of Columbia could gain significant new benefits — including tuition discounts at many Black colleges — under legislation that has cleared Congress and is awaiting President Bush’s signature.
The Senate in March joined the House of Representatives in approving H.R. 1499, a bill to expand the reach of the three-year-old D.C. College Access Act. The law’s original intent was to offer Washington residents access to public colleges and universities nationwide at “in-state” tuition rates. They also could gain $2,500 tuition stipends to attend private colleges and universities in and around Washington.
The nation’s capital has an open admissions university, the University of the District of Columbia, but not a state university system.
The most far-reaching change in the new legislation is a provision granting any D.C. resident a $2,500 stipend to attend any historically Black college or university in the nation. In the original law, the stipend applied only to HBCUs in the Washington area as well as Virginia or Maryland.
More than 600 D.C. residents are likely to take advantage of this provision during the next school year, says Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.
Two other provisions in the new bill expand the tuition stipends to older students who may have put off attending college. Under the original law, college students who graduated from high school before 1998 were not eligible, largely because of concerns about limited funding for the initiative.
The new law offers tuition breaks to any D.C. resident currently enrolled in college, regardless of when they graduated from high school. About 1,000 students who have been denied tuition benefits in the past now will qualify for assistance, Norton says.
Another provision of the new law also may help older students by removing a requirement that a young adult enroll in college within three years after high school graduation to qualify for aid.
Norton says the changes will help level the playing field by giving D.C. residents access to a broader range of public and private colleges.
“This bill brings higher education opportunities for the District’s young people much closer to those regularly enjoyed in the districts of other members of Congress,” she says. “It is impossible to overestimate the value and importance of this act to the District, which has only an open admissions university and no state university system.”
The Senate approved the bill after considerable debate about the structure of the legislation and available funding. In its original form in the House, the bill would have allowed virtually any D.C. high school graduate to obtain assistance. Congress has appropriated $17 million annually for the tuition program.
One other change in H.R. 1499 would close a loophole that had allowed non-U.S. citizens to receive benefits if they lived in the District of Columbia.
The law’s chief focus remains public colleges, however. Under current law, the tuition access act allows the federal government to provide up to $10,000 a year to cover the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for D.C. high school graduates.
Bush is expected to sign the bill once it reaches the White House. 



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