President Donald Trump’s 2019 budget proposal includes the elimination of the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program, which provides grants for Washington, D.C. residents attending college across the country.
DCTAG receives $40 million in annual funding from the federal government that would be eliminated under Trump’s plan. The program currently provides financial assistance to D.C. residents attending public institutions nationwide, as well as private, nonprofit and historically black colleges and universities in the D.C. metro area.The proposed elimination stated that the D.C. government is in a more stable financial position now than it was in 1999, when the program was passed, and that D.C. can find local funds to provide for its residents.
“There are many Federal programs available to all Americans that help ensure continued college access,” the budget proposal read.
The program helps compensate for the lack of in-state university system in the District. While students from nearby Virginia and Maryland can save tens of thousands of dollars on in-state tuition at several public institutions, D.C. has only three public colleges and universities: the National Intelligence University, the University of the District of Columbia and University of the District of Columbia David A. Clarke School of Law.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said this funding is especially important given the current cost of higher education.
“In 2018, when the cost of college is at an all-time high, it is unfathomable that any leader would propose eliminating a program like DCTAG rather than expanding it,” Bowser said in a Feb. 15 emailed statement.
Under the program’s current guidelines, students can receive up to $2,500 for private institutions and HBCUs in the D.C. area, and up to $10,000 for public institutions across the country. Georgetown University is a DCTAG-eligible school, as a nonprofit private university in D.C.
Over 26,000 students have received $350 million in funding through the program since its beginning in 2000, according to District officials. Currently, students at over 300 colleges and universities across the country are beneficiaries of DCTAG.
Advocates of the program say it has helped low- and middle-income D.C. students attend college. Most DCTAG recipients come from families with incomes below $30,000, according to Bowser.
“To reduce inequality and create more pathways to the middle class for our young people and their families, we must continue to open doors of opportunity,” Bowser said in the Feb. 15 statement.
However, critics have cited graduation rates of DCTAG students that are lower than the national average as evidence that the program is unsuccessful.
In November 2017, the Senate Appropriations Committee proposed a bill that would cut spending on DCTAG to $30 million — a 25 percent reduction, but a drastically smaller cut than Trump’s proposal. The appropriations document said only about 51 percent of program participants graduated within six years, compared to the nationwide 60 percent six-year graduation rate, according to the most recent data available.
However, Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is a strong proponent of the program, and has announced her commitment to maintaining its funding. She assured students and their families she does not expect DCTAG students to lose their grants.
Norton said DCTAG is generally a bipartisan program, as it has received funding through both the Bush and Obama administrations.
“DCTAG has been funded every year by Republican and Democratic Congresses alike and, unlike Trump this year, Republican presidents as well, since its creation,” Norton said in a Feb. 12 news release. “This draconian and backwards budget shows how out of touch this administration is with reality.”