Yesterday, students at the University of the District of Columbia marched and camped in at the school’s Van Ness campus to protest steep hikes in the school’s tuition. Today the Board of Trustees for the University of the District of Columbia is voting on that plan, which would raise tuition for students in four-year programs from about $3,800 to $7,000 yearly.
Sounds shocking, but a few things don’t get mentioned, or get mentioned very briefly, in most press accounts.
First off, UDC has never made a very good distinction between its two-year community college and workforce development programs and its four-year baccalaureate degree-granting programs. The tuition hike is part of a plan to improve that situation. Second, this tuition hikes would only affect the four-year students. Under the new plan, students enrolled in two-year, community college classes would pay the old rate—-$3,000.
While it’s noble to speak of UDC’s mission as providing a “quality and affordable education for residents of the District of Columbia”—-as UDC student Joshua Lopez told WaPo this week—-it’s very hard to argue is that all its students are getting a quality education now. And $7,000 in-state yearly for a college degree still qualifies as affordable, compared to other state universities in this part of the country.
LL sees the facts this way: UDC has continually underwhelmed throughout its 35-year history, in no small part because of money. It’s done only token, if any, private fundraising, it’s never managed its budget well, and, especially, during the control board era, it’s never been given the operating subsidy it needs.
Now UDC’s programs and reputation aren’t going to improve immediately, and students may not decide that $7,000 for a UDC education is worth it. But students can vote with their feet: Thanks to the federally funded Tuition Assistance Grants, D.C. residents can attend any public university at in-state prices. Or they can remain in community college programs.
UDC President Allen Sessoms doesn’t expect that to happen, though. In an interview with LL earlier this month, he said, thanks to the economy and changes in programs, he expected UDC’s enrollment to rise from about 5,500 this year to about 7,000—-4,000 in four-year degree programs, the rest in community college classes.
Lest LL open himself up for ad hominem attacks, some full disclosure here—-LL attended a very expensive private university, financed largely by his parents’ savings. So he probably isn’t the guy to stand up and say to UDC students: Hey, you need to take on a whole bunch more debt!
But the reality is that the status quo can’t support making UDC what it needs to be. The alumni and other private support isn’t there; the governmental support certainly isn’t going to improve anytime soon, so if UDC is ever going to improve, things have to start with tuition.