Financial Aid in UDC’s Future – Possibly - Higher Education

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Financial Aid in UDC’s Future – Possibly

by Black Issues

Financial Aid in UDC’s Future – Possibly

By Charles Dervarics
WASHINGTON — A bipartisan effort to increase postsecondary options for District of Columbia students could add federal funding to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) budget, if Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton — the District’s nonvoting representative in Congress — gets her way.
The impetus for the new drive is an alliance between the White House and a top House Republican to change the way D.C. residents think about college. Under that plan, D.C. students could access public colleges in Maryland, Virginia, and other states at the same tuition rates paid by residents of those states (See Black Issues, Feb. 4).
But the proposal has prompted calls to increase funding for UDC, a financially ailing institution that does not receive federal funding under Title III of the Higher Education Act. Title III provides funds to minority-serving institutions — including historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Norton wants to change that practice as part of any bipartisan aid package.
The federal government made an “erroneous decision” in the 1980s not to list UDC as an HBCU, says Norton, a Democrat. The main reason for inaction, she says, is fear that “the share of the HBCU pie for existing institutions would be diminished.”
Norton, who is attempting to correct that decision through legislation, would also like to take a portion of funds reserved for the in-state tuition benefit and give it to UDC — an idea that appeals to the university’s president, Dr. Julius Nimmons.
“I am really encouraged by the action of Delegate Norton on behalf of seeking additional funding for the university,” Nimmons says. “We certainly could use an infusion of new money which would allow the university to move further in maximizing its potential.”
President Bill Clinton’s new education budget already includes $17 million for the D.C. tuition initiative. Norton says she believes Congress could reserve specific funds from that total to help UDC.
The request has added complexity to a proposal by Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (R-Va.) that initially drew strong across-the-board support.
Davis’ idea is “completely unrelated to UDC,” says Trey Hardin, a spokesman for the congressman. While not dismissing the Norton plan, Davis envisioned his proposal not as a rebuke of UDC but as a way to increase options for D.C. residents and give mid-Atlantic colleges an incentive to recruit D.C. students, Hardin says.
In fact, Davis says he wants to offer D.C. residents in-state tuition benefits at a public college or university in any state nationwide.
“Ideally, that’s what he’d like to do,” Hardin says, adding that Davis favors a more modest initial approach until the government can assess the popularity and cost of such benefits.
Davis sought a presidential endorsement on the plan as a way to drum up early support. With endorsements from members of both parties, “you’ve got the plan moving on two tracks,” he says.
The addition of UDC as a wild card may affect not only the Clinton/Davis plan, but also the funding framework for HBCUs. Though “technically” an HBCU, the university was denied Title III funding because, at the time, lawmakers and Title III officials assumed that UDC had a line item in the District of Columbia’s congressional appropriation and, therefore, could not receive a separate Title III payment.
However, the D.C. appropriation was a lump-sum payment, mainly to compensate the District for federally used land taken off the District’s tax rolls, according to Norton. Regardless of this issue, however, Congress’ latest D.C. revitalization law no longer includes a federal payment, meaning “the way should be clear for UDC to take its rightful place as an HBCU institution,” she says.
The university meets requirements for Title III status because “UDC was created from colleges established before 1964,” which makes it an HBCU, Norton says. UDC was formed in 1976 with the merger of the District of Columbia Teachers College, Federal City College, and the Washington Technical Institute.
Nimmons says UDC could get money from Title III without decreasing money for other HBCUs if Congress were to increase the overall Title III funding — something that he thinks is likely.
“I suspect what will happen is that [Title III] appropriation will be increased in order to accommodate whatever dispersion that goes to UDC,” he says.
Claiming that the two education funds “reinforce each other,” Nimmons believes that it is possible that his institution could receive money from both sources.
“This seems to be the opportune time — when there is an effort to provide an opportunity for D.C. students to attend public institutions,” he says. “It would seem logical that you would want to add a special distribution to the [District’s] public institution [as a show] of public support.”
But no matter how one defines a “payment” today, Norton says, UDC gets no appropriation from Congress.
Norton did not specify how much of the $17 million in the president’s budget could go to UDC, but she says “some funds” should go to the institution for technology and infrastructure needs. The District’s financial crisis cut the college’s budget nearly 50 percent since 1994, and the institution was forced to close for three months in 1996.
Today, the college has antiquated computers, poorly functioning elevators, and other problems that are “shameful in a public institution,” Norton says.
Norton has introduced her plan as the University of the District of Columbia Equal Educational Status Act.
“It would seem logical to do what she’s asking,” Nimmons says, “and it would be obviously appropriate to do it considering that the university has demonstrated its ability to address serious financial problems and still come out of it in good shape. So obviously, there is good [financial] management and good stewardship here.”
Davis has yet to unveil his proposal as formal legislation, although such action is expected soon, aides say. The Clinton plan is now on Capitol Hill as part of the administration’s 2000 education budget.                                                 
Eric St. John contributed to this story.

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