The Washington Post

Low-income D.C. college students awarded more scholarship money from the city

Nearly 200 students enrolled in colleges and universities in the District were surprised to learn late this summer that they would receive thousands of dollars from a new scholarship fund started by Mayor Vincent C. Gray and the D.C. Council using extra money in the budget.

The new scholarships were awarded to graduates of D.C. high schools who are from low-income families, as determined by the federal student aid application, and in good standing at their school. Students attending private schools in the District received $10,000 for the school year. Those attending the University of the District of Columbia received $7,000, and those enrolled at the city’s community college received $3,000.

Gray (D) said that the scholarships will help low-income families afford the colleges where their children were accepted while also affirming “the importance and the significance and the value of our universities right here in the District of Columbia.”

Zataunia Heard, a junior at Trinity Washington University, said she was shocked when she opened an e-mail stating that she had received a $10,000 scholarship. She wondered: Where did this come from?

“I clicked print and sent it to the enrollment office. I didn’t think it was real,” said Heard, 22, who is studying nursing while raising her 4-year-old daughter and working part time.

The award letter was real — and allowed Heard to not take out any loans this school year. Trinity is a private, historically all-female university in Northeast Washington with a high number of low-income and first-generation students. Even with financial assistance from Trinity, federal grants and other scholarships, Heard said she has borrowed about $26,000 since starting school in 2008.

When the council approved the budget for the coming fiscal year in June, they set aside $1.59 million for what is being called the Mayor’s Scholars Fund. So far this year, $1.2 million has been given to about 185 students, the mayor said Friday at a news conference at Trinity. He said the rest will go to D.C. high school students who are enrolled in college classes.

Gray said he plans to include money for these scholarships in next year’s budget submission and hopes future city leaders will do the same.

The scholarship money will be given in addition to money students from the District receive from the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant, which provides up to $10,000 per year for five years if a student attends a public college. Students who attend a private college in the region or any historically black college can receive up to $2,500 per year. That funding is not available to students who attend UDC or its community college.

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