Legislation Offers D.C. Students Incentive to Attend HBCUs
A Senate committee has approved legislation that would provide more tuition benefits for District of Columbia residents, particularly if they choose to attend historically Black colleges.Legislation from the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee would make several major changes in the D.C. College Access Act, a 1999 law allowing D.C. high school graduates to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges nationwide. The original law also offers D.C. students a $2,500 stipend to attend any private college or university in the Washington area.But the new changes would allow benefits for thousands of additional residents — plus incentives for D.C. graduates to attend HBCUs. A provision of the Senate bill, for example, would give a $2,500 stipend to a student attending any Black college nationwide. Under current law, students could get the stipend only for attending two HBCUs near the nation’s capital.The HBCU change “will help many D.C. residents,” says Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D-D.C., a chief sponsor of the 1999 law and a key player in efforts to expand the program.Within a year, more than 600 students likely would take advantage of the change affecting HBCUs, she says.Other changes in the Senate bill would allow aid to older students or those who take time to work between high school and postsecondary attendance. For example, the plan would offer in-state tuition rates to any D.C. resident now enrolled in college. This is an expansion of the current law, which provides aid to D.C. residents only if they graduated from high school after January 1998. The new provision would help about 1,000 students, Norton says.The Senate also would remove a current provision requiring students to enroll in college within three years of high school graduation if they want to receive benefits.“These amendments to the College Access Act will provide thousands more D.C. residents, left out of the original Act, (with) tuition assistance and will expand college education opportunities for D.C. residents,” Norton says. The bill also closes an unintended loophole that has allowed foreign nationals living in Washington to receive benefits.Congress enacted the original college access plan amid concern that Washington residents lacked access to affordable, comprehensive public colleges and universities. The law also authorized more federal aid to expand offerings at the University of the District of Columbia, a local public institution.The full Senate may consider the measure soon. Once it passes the legislation, House and Senate negotiators will meet to craft a final bill. Earlier this year, the House approved an expansion of the 1999 D.C. College Access Act, authored by Norton, with provisions that go beyond the Senate bill. For example, Norton’s version of the bill would provide retroactive tuition benefits to some students who already have graduated from college.
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