School Dispatch: Trump’s proposed cuts threaten college accessibility

Wilson graduate Mykia Washington, now a junior at Kent State, said she would not have been able to afford to attend the university had it not been for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant. (photo courtesy of the Wilson Beacon)

Wilson Beacon (Wilson High School Newspaper)

Former Wilson students at universities around the country benefit from the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant (DCTAG), which provides financial aid for D.C. residents at public colleges.

To Mykia Washington, the DCTAG program is “literally my golden ticket to school.”

A junior at Kent State University in Ohio, Washington studies managerial marketing, works as a student success leader and helps minority students with the transition to college. She is a member of Delta Sigma Theta and will study in Greece this summer.

“I wouldn’t be able to afford Kent if I didn’t get DCTAG,” Washington said.

Kyah King can be found on the sidelines of most Cardinal football and basketball games, proudly cheering for the University of Louisville. Last year she was able to study in China, and is now working toward a degree in Chinese. But without DCTAG and the funding it provides, King says she “would have to return home.” She is unsure where she would attend college, as colleges in the D.C. area are notoriously expensive.

Milky Hudson got a frantic text from his mom last week, who was worried about how to pay his tuition. She was under the impression that President Donald Trump’s proposed cuts to DCTAG had already passed and that the $2,500 they receive from the program was now gone.

Hudson is a freshman at Morehouse College, a historically black university in Atlanta, and said, “without that $10,000, or even without that $2,500, a lot of kids really wouldn’t be in school. And it’s real. It’s legitimately getting kids through college.”

Washington, Hudson and King are just a few of the thousands of students that could be affected this month after Trump proposed eliminating federal funding for the DCTAG program in his fiscal year 2019 budget. The program helps make college affordable for D.C. youth by providing up to $10,000 in annual financial aid toward tuition at public colleges nationwide, and up to $2,500 in scholarship money toward tuition at local private colleges and historically black colleges and universities.

DCTAG was created by Congress in 1999 because unlike most teenagers across the country, D.C. students do not have access to reduced tuition at an acclaimed state university. Since its inception, more than 26,000 students have made use of the program and it has been a key factor in students’ decisions to attend public colleges.

“With tuition prices going up every year, college is almost impossible to afford. The amount of $10,000 off college tuition each year helps out a lot of our students. I think if we don’t have DCTAG, it will be very difficult for a lot of our students to afford the high price tag of college,” said Patrice Arrington, Wilson’s director of College and Career Services. This year, more than 80 percent of Wilson students applied to at least one public college with the hope of receiving up to $10,000 per year in tuition assistance.

The likelihood of Congress approving Trump’s budget is slim. Just two weeks ago, Congress passed a two-year spending bill that effectively preempts the new budget proposed by the president last week. D.C.’s non-voting congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton emphasized this in a statement after the release of Trump’s budget.

“I want to assure D.C. parents and students, thousands of whom are away at college now, that I do not believe they are in danger of losing their DCTAG funds. DCTAG has been funded every year by Republican and Democratic congresses alike and, unlike Trump this year, Republican presidents as well, since its creation,” Holmes Norton said.

In response to Trump’s proposal, Mayor Muriel Bowser started a petition to urge Congress to fund DCTAG fully in the fiscal year 2019 budget.

DCTAG has repeatedly faced threats to its funding in the past. Just last November, a senate appropriations committee proposed cutting the program’s funding by $10 million each year. This measure failed, like all prior measures to cut the program’s funding.