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Federally Funded Grants, Loans Send More D.C. Residents to College

Federally Funded Grants, Loans Send More D.C. Residents to CollegeMore residents from the District of Columbia are attending colleges far from home, taking advantage of a federally funded grant program that pays for up to $10,000 of out-of-state tuition, and an expanded feature this year that offers $2,500 for students who attend any historically Black college or university in the country.“Each year there’s been a steady increase in the number of applications,” says Leonard Proctor, director of the District of Columbia Tuition Assistance Grant Program, or TAG. This academic year there are 192 institutions receiving payments under the program.Congress created TAG four years ago to give D.C. residents the opportunity to attend public colleges and universities at in-state tuition rates. The number of recipients is rising so fast that administrators expect to tap into reserve funds for a second consecutive year.“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,” says District Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C.“A college degree is particularly critical in the District of Columbia because ours is a white collar and technology city and region with few factories or other opportunities for jobs that provide good wages without a college education.”Although students are subject to a $10,000 cap, the average grant has been $6,700. A pending $17 million congressional appropriation is included in the 2004 budget.In its first three years, $43 million in federal funds poured into the program. Each year, the amount tapped has steadily grown, from $9 million the first year, to $14 million in year two, then $19.6 million for the 2002-2003 academic year.In addition to more than 2,500 public colleges and universities nationwide, students attending private HBCUs and local private schools can get grants of up to $2,500 a year. Previously, D.C. students would only receive the grant if they attended HBCUs in the D.C. area and Virginia.“There’ no such thing as a wasted opportunity to make students aware of the educational options available,” says Ken Howard, an outreach specialist for the program. He now makes about 200 presentations each year to students and parents.Before 1999, the University of the District of Columbia was the only public institution available to city residents at in-state tuition rates. Although early critics warned the program would spark an enrollment decline at historically Black UDC, school records indicate there has been no significant impact. At the same time, applications to schools outside the Washington region have more than doubled.There are now more than 5,000 D.C. residents receiving TAG money. The first recipients are expected to graduate over the next two years.

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