UDC Board Approves Major Hike In Tuition

Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a member of the board of trustees at UDC, talks with students after the board voted to phase in a tuition hike.
Eugene Dewitt Kinlow, a member of the board of trustees at UDC, talks with students after the board voted to phase in a tuition hike. (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
By Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, February 19, 2009

The University of the District of Columbia adopted a sizable tuition increase yesterday, a landmark decision that its trustees said would help build a respected public school but that many students consider a betrayal of the university's historical commitment to provide higher education for all.

The board agreed, by a 10 to 3 vote, to nearly double tuition by the fall of 2010, from $3,770 to $7,000 for District residents who are full-time, four-year students. But in a concession to students who had furiously protested the plan to boost the price of attending the city's only public university, it will phase in the price increase, adding $1,600 this fall and $1,630 the next year.

Four-year students from other parts of the area ultimately would pay $8,000, and those from beyond the region would pay $14,000.

The tuition increase, coupled with an already approved plan to split the university into two campuses and end open enrollment at the four-year school, had touched off angry protests and debate over the school's educational role and its future. It also has brought promises of greater accountability from school leaders.

Many consider this a turning point for the school, which has embodied both the District's higher education failures and the ideal of opportunity for anyone seeking higher education, regardless of income or background.

"This is not an easy decision," said James Dyke, the trustees chairman. "This university has been neglected and underfunded for a number of years."

Dissatisfied students said they would continue their opposition to the steep tuition increases.

"We're going to protest again," said Kamana Adhikari, a student from Nepal. President Allen L. Sessoms "just did some trick. He's going to increase it 100 percent anyway. We don't accept that."

Last week, about 1,000 students packed a board meeting to tell trustees that they could not afford Sessoms's proposal to nearly double tuition this fall at UDC, where nearly 6,000 are enrolled in everything from job training classes to law school. They urged the board to vote against it and signed a petition calling for Sessoms's resignation.

On Monday, after passage of the economic stimulus package by Congress, school officials announced that the board would consider the tuition plan approved yesterday and would ensure that no currently enrolled students would have to drop out because of higher costs. School officials expect an increase in operating funds from the stimulus bill, which was signed by President Obama on Tuesday.

But when Sessoms spoke yesterday about an effort to raise millions of dollars in private donations, about 100 students in the UDC auditorium rose and silently turned their backs to him. They said they were showing the same disrespect he had demonstrated to them at last week's public hearing. Student protesters said they will continue to demand changes during the 30-day comment period, after which the board will take a final vote on the measure.

In the fall, Sessoms took over a public institution that has been plagued by insufficient funding, low morale and frequent leadership changes since it was created in 1977. Last month, the board approved his sweeping conceptual plan to change direction at UDC.

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