Congressional Budget Crunchers Look to Curtail D.C. Tuition Assistance Program Which Has Enabled Thousands of African Americans to Go to College

This past academic year about 5,000 students who live in the District of Columbia used government funds to attend colleges and universities in 45 different states. Under the tuition assistance program, students who live in Washington, a city that is 60 percent black, can attend publicly operated universities in any state and pay what students who live in those states pay, with the federal government making up the difference. Also, under the plan, students who live in the District can get $2,500 in tuition assistance to attend any private college or university in Virginia or Maryland or any private historically black college in the nation.

The grants are available to students who have resided in the District of Columbia for the previous year and are under the age of 25. The grants are available to all students regardless of family income.

The number of students taking advantage of the program has more than doubled over the past five years. But now the tuition program may become a victim of its own success. Congress must reauthorize the grants by the end of 2007, and some GOP legislators are balking at the escalating costs of the program due to increased participation levels. In 2005 the program cost taxpayers more than $33 million.

GOP Senator George Voinovich of Ohio has submitted legislation which would extend the program for five more years but freeze spending at current levels. But critics of the plan, including Eleanor Holmes Norton, the District of Columbia delegate to the House of Representatives, say that freezing the budget would necessitate instituting eligibility requirements or reducing the amount of money for each recipient.