By Sandy Merilan
A few reports this year have shown the District of Columbia’s high school students have the nation’s lowest graduation rates, at 59 percent. This statistic is alarming, but once you understand the economic disparities of this city and begin to understand the culture, then one can begin to understand how these two factors play a vital role in student’s success. The DC graduation rate compared to Virginia’s 82%(?) and Maryland’s 89%, show how the diverse economic backgrounds of those two states greatly affect student’s graduation rates.
One of the significant factors driving low graduation rates is poverty. It reduces access to resources and puts a strain on families, schools and communities. According to ths U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in 2011 reports that the median income of persons ages 18 through 67 who had not completed high school was roughly $25,000 in 2009.
According to the DC fiscal institute, The District of Columbia’s poverty rate is far above the national average and has remained high even in periods of strong economic growth. Some 133,000 residents — nearly one-quarter of the population — are low income. Maryland (40%) and Virginia (37%)’s low-income rates are lower.
The District has struggled for years to graduate its students and enroll them in college. Even with a 2012 decrease in DC ‘s dropout rate, the city’s graduation rate is still the lowest in the nation. In 1999 only 30% of DC public high school students enrolled in college and recent studies in 2007 have shown that the number has begin to increase due to DC college programs like DC CAP, DC TAG and other financial aid programs.
A high school diploma no longer promises the entry level employment and lower paying jobs that often accepted high school diplomas; because of tough economic times, a college degree is necessary. The DC College Access Act of 1999 gave residents a means to prepare and pay for college. This purpose of the act was to expand on higher education opportunities for college bound DC residents. The Act created the DC TAG program, which is a residency-based tuition subsidy program, which enables DC residents to attend participating public universities, and colleges nationwide at instate tuition rates.
Prior to DC College Access Grant, residents of the district were offered attendance at one subsidized public institution, the University of the District of Columbia. That forced two-thirds of District residents to enroll in institutions outside of DC. This relocation also meant that enrollment would be more expensive for DC resident’s tuition starting at more than 7,000 a year. The program in its beginning stages was limited to DC residents who graduated from a high school in the district and public institutions but is now open to DC residents who qualify without a graduate degree to attend private institutions in the DC metropolitan area, and private historically black colleges and university.
The DC grant is not a scholarship, but many of the deadlines are coming up. The first step is applying for FAFSA, www. fafsa.ed.gov. Then one must complete the DC ONEAPP, which is due May 31st. The DC OneAPP is the more difficult requirement because of the different required documents like an domicile verification (i.e. tax return, utility bill, citizenship documentation) and FAFSA SAR report.
DC students should take advantage of the different outlets that make the application more simple and programs like DC CAP is a unique college program that accepts EVERY student regardless of academic achievement. DC CAP has a team of advisors that help dc students prepare for college from test prep, academic counseling, through the application process. DC CAP starts preparing students from their ninth grade year and tracks them into their first year of college.
Since the inception of DC-CAP and DC TAG, DC high school graduates are now enrolling in college at higher levels and staying the course in school. Other programs that help residents pay for school include Last Dollars Scholarship, Leveraging DC-CAP Dollars, and DC Leveraged Education Assistance Programs. These grants and scholarship are specifically for students and it is the city’s job to make sure the District’s students know they are available. It takes a village to raise a child and now is the time that the greater DC village begins to emphasize the opportunities that residents get and help them reach their full potential.