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Affordable college for our neighbors; Tuition plan: Washington, D.C. students need equal access to quality public universities.


REP. THOMAS M. Davis III of Virginia first floated the idea of charging Washington, D.C. college students in-state tuition at Maryland and Virginia public colleges last month.

The idea is a good one. So good, in fact, that before the Republican congressman could fine-tune his proposal, President Clinton included it in his budget request to Congress last week.

Never mind that the $17 million the president requested was $10 million more than Mr. Davis had envisioned in the program's first year. Details about how the program will work and how much it will cost can always be worked out.

What's important is the bipartisan recognition that college-bound students living in the nation's capital don't have access to an affordable, high-quality public university system. No one pretends that the long-troubled University of the District of Columbia comes close to competing with a University of Virginia or a University of Maryland at College Park.

As Mr. Davis envisions the plan, graduates of Washington, D.C. high schools who are accepted to public universities in Maryland and Virginia would pay only in-state tuition. The federal government would pay the difference between in-state and out-of-state rates.

The special treatment would apply only to tuition -- and not the special consideration for admissions that some states give residents. And students would be charged full room and board fees.

Even so, the tuition break would be substantial. In-state undergraduates at College Park pay tuition of $4,699 a year compared to the $11,221 paid by out-of-state students.

The plan would not be cost-free for states. Maryland and Virginia residents would subsidize the plan through their taxes that help fund public colleges.

But there could be important side benefits. Nationally, several colleges have started extending in-state tuition to students in neighboring states in hopes of enticing talented students across state lines to study and eventually work. Doing the same for worthy students from Washington, D.C. makes more sense than spending federal tax dollars to build a new public university system based in the nation's capital.

Pub Date: 2/08/99

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