- The Washington Times - Monday, October 16, 2000

Eleven universities now will participate in a program that allows District of Columbia students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges and universities around the country under new regulations that will be announced this week.

The new regulations for the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant Program emerged from consultations between various university officials and program administrators.

Program officials will revise how they distribute funds, improve accounting practices and devise a refund policy to ensure students can pay their bills at the end of the semester, said program director Laurent Ross.

Mr. Ross said the revisions were made after several universities complained that some of the program's features were "silly" or "burdensome."

The $17 million grant program allows D.C. students to pay in-state tuition at out-of-state colleges by reimbursing the schools the difference between the in-state and out-of-state tuitions.

Universities had complained that the program has been slow to reimburse, kept poor records of its disbursements and was structured so that it did not always have to be tapped for D.C. students' use.

"Personally, I think all of the regulations are complete overkill," said Karen Fooks, director of the financial aid office at the University of Florida. "I don't think it needs to be as complex and as prescriptive."

Of the 12 universities that expressed dissatisfaction with the program, including the Universities of Florida, California and Michigan, all except California have signed on or communicated their intention to sign on once the new regulations are issued, Mr. Ross said.

Currently, the program will retroactively reimburse schools that return the participation contract by the end of the term.

Mr. Ross said that in the worst cases, students whose schools don't sign the agreement could be forced to pay their full, out-of-state tuition themselves.

A disagreement over reimbursement was one issue that forced program administrators to revise the regulations.

Under the current plan, the program's funds are used to "supplement, not supplant" any funds a college provides. If a student's financial aid package totals more than the cost of tuition, the program's funds are the first to be refunded.

Nancy Coolidge, financial aid director for the University of California, objected to this part of the program, saying the District's demand to be the "last dollar" added to an aid package forces schools to use benefits they could offer to other students.

"We do not think it is appropriate for any program to dictate how we use our resources," Miss Coolidge said.

Mr. Ross characterized the dispute as state schools wanting to subsidize scholarships to their own students through the District's assistance program.

Contacted at a later date, Miss Coolidge said the University of California would no longer comment on the subject.

If an agreement can't be reached with the University of California, Mr. Ross said the District would likely form a separate agreement with the school system to take care of students currently enrolled.

Thereafter, California would be excluded from the choices for future D.C. students using the grant program.

President Clinton signed the program into law in November.

According to program statistics, about 3,200 students took advantage of the program this year. About 63 percent of those students stayed in the area and received an average award of roughly $3,300. About 37 percent went out-of-state and received an average award of $5,800.

Eligible students are entitled to a maximum of $10,000 in aid per year and $50,000 over the course of their education to make up the difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition.

Requirements limit the program to undergraduates who live in the District, plan to attend public institutions and have graduated from high school no more than three years before applying.

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