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D.C. Tuition Assistance Program in Jeopardy

Dorothy Rowley | 2/10/2014, 5:24 p.m.
The DC TAG program, which helps low-income students pay for college, could be off-limits if the D.C. Council passes the DC Promise legislation. (Courtesy photo)

The D.C. Council's nod toward a scholarship program crafted and introduced by at-large member David Catania could mean the end of the long-running, federally funded DC Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG) program.

The tentatively-passed DC Promise Scholarship bill, which is currently unfunded and set for final approval next month, would provide low-income high school graduates up to $60,000 over four years of college. Upon passage, it could cost the city nearly $8 million in its first year and about $20 million each year afterward.

Catania, who asserts that the programs could coexist, specified that the scholarship funds not be used as tuition at TAG-eligible schools.

"We're not going to do anything that threatens TAG," he said. "And if, God forbid, anything happens to TAG, there is the will on this [governing] body to support it locally in addition to DC Promise."

More than half of TAG students come from low-income households, with 20,000 District students having been assisted with about $317,000 million in college assistance funding since the program was created by Congress in 1999.

While the national program offers students up to $10,000 per year to attend out-of-state public colleges, DC TAG also provides up to $2,500 per academic year toward tuition at private colleges and universities in the District and private historically Black colleges and universities and two-year colleges nationwide.

But D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton has warned that the scholarship program could be a detriment to local TAG assistance. She said that in passing Catania's bill, council members would have to consider how much money, if any, should be set aside for TAG.

Norton, who reiterated her commitment to saving DC TAG, said the program has been at risk "ever since congressional appropriators caught wind of" Catania's legislation. She also said in recent correspondence to the council that if the District loses its program, the council would be held accountable to replace whatever funds are lost.

"I continue to encourage last dollar funding, if D.C. students are both to retain DC TAG funds and secure additional D.C. government funding," Norton said.