Florida, Michigan, California Colleges Have Yet to Agree to D.C. Tuition Plan

Florida, Michigan, California Colleges Have Yet to Agree to D.C. Tuition Plan

The District of Columbia’s new tuition assistance program, which gives the city’s high school graduates up to $10,000 a year to attend public colleges and universities across the country, is being criticized by a handful of schools who are refusing to participate.
Calling some of the program’s rules and regulations too cumbersome and restrictive — particularly when taking into account the small number of Washington students planning to attend their respective schools — the University of Florida, the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, the University of California system and at least one institution of the State University of New York are a few of the schools that have not yet signed up to participate.
The program was established to give Washington residents the opportunity to attend schools outside the city at in-state tuition rates and to encourage more families to live in the city. City officials also say the plan could help colleges across the country achieve their student diversity goals, considering the demographics of the nation’s capital (see Black Issues, Aug. 31). The program also offers grants of $2,500 a year to students who attend private colleges in the Washington area or historically Black private colleges in Maryland and Virginia.
 One key sticking point is the program’s refund policy. Should a student decide to leave the institution early, university financial aid officials say that the refund policy could cost them more in the end because they would have to give back whatever money they got from the government.
Laurent Ross, director of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program, says he’s sympathetic to the problem. However, some of the refund polices, particularly regarding federal aid, are dictated by government regulations. Ross says that his office has actively been working to revise its rules to meet the schools’ request.
“We’ve met them about three-quarters of the way,” he says. Ross has since told the schools that they could use their own institutional refund policies.
The other glitch the schools are finding fault with is the “supplement and not supplant issue,” Ross says. This regulation requires that the D.C. program’s funds supplement rather than replace other grants the student might receive. For example, the rule would force institutions to provide their own need-based aid to help low-income D.C. students who are eligible for the program to pay some out-of-state tuition costs before the institution could use the new program’s funds.
Although the grant program is working with the universities to address some of their concerns, to some extent, Ross says, his hands are tied because it is a federal program and he has to follow federal regulations. Recently, Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., announced that she is forming a task force to streamline regulations governing the new tuition grants.
“This sends a bad message to kids in D.C. and sends a bad message to the program,” Ross says. “We’re no longer able to say, ‘You can attend any public college or university you want.’ It’s a just a small number of schools who want to deny D.C. kids that right, and I have to question their motive.”
The tuition program received 3,200 applications from students for this school year, according to Ross. In addition, approximately 330 colleges and universities have signed participation agreements with the tuition assistance
 program.
While the schools are working to reach an agreement with the program, Washington students have been able to enroll and attend classes as usual.  



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