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First Gov  

October 12, 1999

H.R. 974 - District of Columbia College Access Act
(Rep. Davis (R) VA and 13 cosponsors)

The Administration supports Senate passage of H.R. 974, as reported by the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs. H.R. 974 would increase access to postsecondary education for residents of the District of Columbia (D.C.). While the Administration is extremely pleased with the strong bipartisan spirit in which H.R. 974 has been developed, the Administration continues to be concerned about the phase-in of student eligibility, and urges the Senate to amend H.R. 974 to address this concern. The Administration understands that the bill may be amended to alleviate this and other concerns.

The President's FY 2000 Budget includes $17 million to improve access to postsecondary education for D.C. residents. Currently, residents of all 50 states are served by multiple public colleges or universities, while D.C. residents are not. This unduly restricts their postsecondary opportunities. The Administration is pleased that H.R. 974 would: (1) allow the Federal Government to pay the difference between in-State and out-of-State tuition at public colleges and universities in Maryland and Virginia (and in other States under certain circumstances) on behalf of qualified D.C. residents; (2) provide grants to D.C. residents who choose to attend private colleges and universities in the Washington, D.C. area; and (3) authorize financial support to the University of the District of Columbia (UDC).

The Administration is concerned about the provision of the bill as reported that would restrict its benefits to only those students who graduated from secondary school or received the equivalent of a secondary school diploma on or after January 1, 1999. The Administration understands that the bill may be amended to provide benefits to students who graduated on or after January 1, 1998. The Administration urges adoption of this amendment. Limiting benefits to graduates after January 1, 1999, would be problematic for two reasons:

  • It would unnecessarily limit eligibility. The Administration anticipates that resources will be available to fully fund the benefits to students who graduated before January 1, 1999, and could help many D.C. residents currently in college obtain their degrees. A lack of financial resources is a leading reason why many students who enroll in college do not complete their degree programs.

  • It could distort the program and make it prohibitively expensive in the future. Because so few students would be initially eligible under the bill, the low initial program costs could result in pressure to prematurely expand the program to include grants for students to attend institutions in States other than Maryland and Virginia. Many more students would be eligible to receive these grants if the geographic scope of the program were expanded, and serious funding constraints and reduced benefits would be likely if the program were expanded before student eligibility is fully phased in. It is very important that students who begin attending postsecondary institutions outside of D.C. be assured of continuing, unreduced benefits.

The Administration is pleased that the reported version of H.R. 974 includes the authority for the Mayor of the District of Columbia to, in the event of insufficient appropriations, adjust the amount of tuition payments based on the financial need of eligible students. The Administration would prefer that H.R. 974 ensure that Federal resources are provided to those students with the greatest need for financial assistance by including some form of priority funding mechanism. The Administration notes, however, that the provision in the reported version of H.R. 974 is a step in the right direction. The Administration understands that the bill may be amended to authorize the Mayor, when administering the program, to give priority to students with the greatest financial need. The Administration urges adoption of this amendment.