By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 3, 2009
D.C. Council member Marion Barry, on his first day back after a kidney transplant, will seek today to reverse a recent tuition hike at the University of the District of Columbia and retain open enrollment at the city's only public university.
Barry has drawn up emergency legislation to require the UDC board of trustees to conduct a 45-day review of the impact and rationale for almost doubling tuition to $7,000 for District residents who are full-time, four-year students. The proposed resolution would also prohibit the university from establishing "stringent" admission requirements for its four-year program. Currently, anyone with a high school diploma or general equivalency degree can enroll.
"The biggest impact on black kids being put out of school is lack of financial resources to pay for their education. Not enough study has been done on the financial impact that the proposed tuition increase would have on the students," Barry (D-Ward 8) said in a statement. "This admissions process has worked for years for D.C. residents, young and old, who want the opportunity to pursue higher education. Especially during these hard economic times, we should be doing all we can to increase educational opportunities and not decrease them."
Barry has the support of some students who have urged their colleagues to e-mail council members. But Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) said he was concerned about interfering in the school's affairs. His office is working with university officials to craft legislation that would give the school more autonomy. Gray said he also worried that the legislation could jeopardize the school's accreditation, which is partly based on the school having an independent governing body.
James Dyke, chairman of the UDC trustee board, said he and other trustees lobbied council members in person and by phone to reject Barry's proposal. He said changes in the admissions and tuition policies were approved "to take UDC to the next level of excellence." The board voted 10 to 3 on the changes under a proposal by President Allen L. Sessoms despite the concerns of hundreds of students who have banded together in protest.
Although Gray said he will support the trustees today, he said the university must improve relations with students.
"I have strongly urged the board of trustees and the president to strengthen lines of communication between them and the students," he said. "Where there is a full understanding of new ideas and approaches, there is likely to be acceptance among the students."