D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) recently introduced the Community College for All Scholarship Act.
D.C. Council member Vincent Orange (D-At Large) on Feb. 3 introduced the “Community College For All Scholarship Act of 2015.” The legislation establishes a program to provide free tuition and fees at the University of the District of Columbia Community College, informally known as UDC-CC. Orange’s bill mirrors President Obama’s Jan. 9 proposal offering free community college to students maintaining a 2.5grade point average and studying at least half-time.
“President Obama has already made the goal of a community college education a national agenda,” the council member said. “Access to a quality education should be inclusive, not exclusive. All District residents should have access to a quality college education.”
The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is the only public higher education institution in the city. The university consists of the community college, undergraduate, graduate, and the David A. Clarke School of Law, educating approximately 5,500 students.
Orange’s bill states that students could attend UDC-CC free if they maintain a 2.0 GPA, complete their studies in two years, and engage in community service and mentoring. Tennessee, under its landmark Tennessee Promise program, and the city of Chicago, with its Chicago Star Scholarship initiative, have instituted free community college programs for qualified students. New Jersey’s NJ Stars program, offers up to five quarters of a free community college education in the state for students who graduate in the top 15 percent of their high school class. In Maryland, there are no bills before the Maryland General Assembly supporting free community college in the state, but Sen. Lisa Gladden (D-Baltimore) has legislation permitting graduates of Baltimore City high schools to attend Baltimore City Community College free.
Dr. Bernie Sadusky, executive director of the Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC), embraces Obama’s idea. “The fact that 80 percent of all future jobs in Maryland will need workers with the education levels that community colleges provide, coupled with economist’ assertions that high student debt levels can limit local economic growth, mean that it is time for new approaches to developing Maryland’s 21st century workforce,” Sadusky said. “Community colleges are uniquely positioned to meet this challenge. Moreover, the MACC is ready to work with state and federal agencies to design a free post-secondary tuition program that would achieve state and national educational and workforce development goals.”
Orange’s bill was co-introduced by D.C. Council members Elissa Silverman (I-At Large), Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7), Anita Bonds (D-At Large), Jack Evans (D-Ward 2), Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3), and Brianne Nadeau (D-Ward 1). “Today’s introduction by a majority of the council signifies that this council is dedicated to educating our residents,” Orange said.
D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) referred the bill to the Committee of the Whole and a hearing date had not been set at AFRO press time.
Michael Rogers, the vice president for institutional advancement at UDC, said that while university officials are aware of Orange’s bill, they have not responded to it, yet. “We are going to look at the bill and talk it over with our board of directors to see what happens next,” Rogers said.
Jacque Patterson, an advisory neighborhood commissioner in Ward 8, engaged in the city’s educational issues, said free community college would be great for residents. Patterson notes that the city is financially sound with its latest projection of a $203 million surplus by the Fiscal Year 2014 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report released last month, and some of those funds could be used to pay for Orange’s program.
“The city can definitely afford it,” Patterson said. “When people are educated, it helps our economy grow.”
Patterson said there are other ways the city could fund the program. “The D.C. Chamber of Commerce could possibly get behind a small tax on businesses that would pay for free community college,” he said. “I think our business community can afford a two percent tax increase when they will be getting well-trained workers in return. We tax businesses in the city to pay for stadiums, why not pay for an education for residents?”