As Will Sommer‘s story in this week’s print edition notes, it’s difficult being the University of the District of Columbia. As a city-run university in a town with dozens of fancier schools, you’re constantly maligned, slighted, persecuted, and having your ambitions questioned (embarrassing presidential spending patterns, of course, don’t help).
One of those insults, over the last ten years, has been UDC’s exclusion from the federally-funded Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides up to $10,000 per year for children of District residents to attend both private and public colleges outside the District, as well as most of the private schools in D.C.
The D.C. TAG program was established to compensate for the fact that D.C. didn’t have a quality four-year institution of higher learning. UDC, however, contends that it’s on the road to becoming one, and that students should be able to use their TAG money there.
“It blows my mind,” says UDC spokesman Alan Etter, of UDC’s singular ineligibility. “You want to go riot about something, that’s something to riot about…It puts the city in peril. We’re paying people to go away and not come back.”
That’s not entirely true. Georgetown, George Washington University, Gallaudet, and a number of other D.C. universities can accept TAG money, so you don’t have to leave the District to benefit from federal largesse. But Etter may be right that many students might take advantage of a tuition subsidy for UDC, which only costs $7,000 per year anyway. The greatest number of TAG recipients currently go to Montgomery College, which has campuses in Rockville and Takoma Park. Maybe, if they could go to UDC for free, they’d choose to stay here instead. Or maybe not! But if the District’s state university wants to become a competitive, high-standards kind of place, it seems like it should at least be able to compete for federal tuition subsidies on an equal footing.