Controversy over a budget deficit announced by the District’s only government-run university is steadily brewing, causing anxiety among students. City officials say they were surprised by the University of the District of Columbia’s recent request for an additional $8 million to $10 million to offset the expense of operating the fast-growing Community College for the District of Columbia (CCDC), which the D.C. City Council approved two years ago. The request comes at a time when the local government is facing a projected $400 million deficit.

Alan Etter, a UDC spokesman, said university President Allen L. Sessoms told city officials that the university is overwhelmed by the cost of providing courses and services to students who enroll at the community college. “The great demand for a community college added more expenses than anticipated,” said Etter.

For two years, UDC covered the cost of partially renovating a location in southeast Washington along with opening up locations in downtown and northeast to accommodate the more than 4,000 students enrolled in the community college.

Since then, enrollment has dropped to less than 2,000 students at the main campus. UDC officials said they were forced to spend more than $18 million from reserve funds.

Doxie McCoy, spokeswoman for Mayor Vincent Gray (D) and Traci Hughes, spokeswoman for Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) said they could offer no comments for this story since they were seeking additional information from UDC officials.

Councilman Marion Barry, Ward 8 (D), said the council was not aware of the deficit because it is not involved in the day-to-day operations of the university.

Etter, the UDC spokesman, said the president was not aware of an official request by the mayor or council for a detailed outline of how the deficit was determined.

However, a fact sheet was being prepared by the university of its immediate and long-term needs.

“We are working with the mayor and council to help them understand the operational impact that a community college with several locations has on our budget,” said Etter.

University officials believe the increase in funding should be realized through the city’s budget and not passed on to the students.

“Most residents don’t realize that UDC is the only state university that is not a recipient of the congressionally designed Tuition Assistance Program (TAG) which would help us tremendously,” Etter said. “It’s almost like the federal government is paying D.C. residents to go outside the District to educate themselves instead of offering students a equal chance at our state-run university.”

Although troubling, this problem comes as no surprise to many students that protested the expansion of the community college. Joshua Lopez, a UDC alumni and candidate for an at-large council seat, said he was furious over reports that the mayor is suggesting tuition hikes as a solution to the budget deficit that elected officials helped create while Gray was chairman of the council.

Lopez said without a clear plan for funding, and against the wishes of then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, Gray supported a new two-year community college under the UDC umbrella but failed to ensure funding for the community college was included in the District’s budget.

“Students of UDC should not have to foot the bill for irresponsible leadership,” said Lopez. “Why would Gray suggest tuition increases to solve a problem he admitted he knew little about?”

The university needs $8 million by March 1 to offset possible closures this school year. “The city of D.C. needs leadership that incorporates some level of forethought into their decision-making process,” said Lopez. “Our leaders need to be less reactionary and more responsible.”

 

Valencia Mohammed

Special to the AFRO