WITH SENATE APPROVAL, one of the best ideas from Congress to open higher education opportunities for students from the District could take effect this fall. Unlike their peers in the states, high school students living in the District have no network of state-supported colleges to attend. Legislation passed on a unanimous voice vote in the House would allow D.C. residents to pay in-state tuition rates at public colleges elsewhere. Support for the idea is said to be strong in the Senate, but backers note that some adjustments are necessary to close one loophole and scale back the estimated cost of the measure.
Virginia Rep. Tom Davis and D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, sponsors of the House bill, have been working with senators to tighten the legislation. One change that needs making: A residency provision in the original bill inadvertently could have permitted thousands of sophomores, juniors and seniors from across the country to receive federal aid under the program if they attended private colleges in the District for at least a year. Closing that loophole should cut costs considerably.
Another possible modification may have to be made in the number of participating colleges. The House bill would allow students from the District to pay in-state rates at any public colleges to which they gain admission or to obtain up to $3,000 annually to attend private schools in the District, Maryland or Virginia. A Senate version, introduced by Sen. James Jeffords of Vermont, would restrict public colleges to those in Maryland and Virginia. This version also would limit the private colleges to $2,000 in aid per student and would restrict eligible schools to those in the District or neighboring counties, rather than throughout the region.
One proposed change that should be resisted would restrict eligibility to families below certain income levels. House sponsors rejected this idea for good reasons: Families anywhere else are not excluded on the basis of income from in-state rates. Public universities are for everyone. The whole worthy purpose of this legislation should be to give students from the District the same opportunities to affordable higher education as those accorded to students in the rest of the country.