CONGRESSIONAL agreement appears at hand on a most worthy bill to open important higher education opportunities for students from the District. The proposal, as modified this week to meet financial constraints, addresses a disadvantage suffered by D.C students who, unlike their peers in the 50 states, have no network of state-supported colleges to attend -- and thus no in-state tuition options. Under the revised plan, the District could award up to $10,000 a year -- and up to $50,000 in total -- for tuition assistance for high school students from D.C. who attend public universities in Maryland or Virginia. D.C. students enrolling in District or nearby private colleges could receive up to $2,500 a year, to a total of $12,500 for their college careers.

As an important complement to this legislation, more than a dozen area companies and foundations are working to raise $20 million in corporate and foundation grants to help D.C. public students with additional college expenses. The nonprofit D.C. College Access Program (and in the interest of disclosure we note here that Post Publisher Donald E. Graham is a part of this group, which has lobbied for the tuition bill) would provide students with up to $2,000 a year to help meet college expenses after other sources of financial aid have been exhausted; it also would provide advisers in D.C. high schools to help students see college as a realistic goal and would offer students and their families assistance in completing paperwork for financial aid, testing and applications.

The tuition legislation and agreement on financing are the products of an extraordinary bipartisan congressional and administration effort. Key contributors have included Tom Davis, Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ernest J. Istook in the House; Sens. George V. Voinovich, Kay Bailey Hutchison and Richard J. Durbin; and Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley.

Now swift final congressional approval of the program -- and the full $17 million appropriation for it -- becomes essential. Prompt enactment could spell the financial difference next February for D.C. students who graduated in January and June of this year, as well as students in their first three years of college who may be on the verge of dropping out for financial reasons.