D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) recently announced the launch of a new college and tuition support program that helps District residents pursue degrees in high-demand fields at three local universities. Program participants receive $8,000 per semester in college tuition in addition to coaching, access to emergency funds and, in some cases, a stipend.
Tameka Green, a Ward 7 resident and one of more than 300 people enrolled in the aptly named DC Futures program, found out about the program through a friend who works in District government. She said she can attest to its significance, especially as she attempts to overcome COVID-19-related unemployment.
A month into her paralegal studies at the Catholic University of America (CUA) in Northeast, Green said she’s inching closer to her goal of conducting research for intellectual property and patent cases at a top law firm.
“At 50 years old, I’m trying to recreate myself. I thought about where I would fit and what that looks like,” Green said.
Once she submitted her W-2 and other documents last month, Green joined other DC Futures enrollees in a process that connected her with CUA’s admissions office and a career coaching program. Shortly after, in January, Green, who’s had stints in event management, started her first semester as a part-time student. Before then, the thought of attending college never crossed her mind.
“Becoming a paralegal is perfect. I am very thorough and assertive and that will go a long way in a law firm,” Green said. “When I saw the law program at Catholic University on the list of approved programs, it clicked that I could finally do this and not have to struggle to pay for school. It was the perfect timing for me in so many ways.”
DC Futures counted among three programs Bowser spoke about on February 1, during the launch of Fair Shot February. In addition to the $12 million DC Futures program, District residents also have at their disposal the longstanding DC Tuition Assistance Grant, also known as DC-TAG, and the Mayor’s Scholars Undergraduate Program.
The rollout of DC Futures, DC-TAG and the Mayor’s Scholars Undergraduate Program support the Office of the State Superintendent of Education’s goal to coordinate the enrollment of 1,100 more students than intended in its 2019-2023 strategic plan. In total, the three programs stand to support more than 5,500 District residents. In the DC Futures program, 38 participants identify as paraprofessionals and instructional aides now on track to acquire a lead teacher position.
“We are excited to expand access to financial aid options for D.C. residents pursuing postsecondary education,” said State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant. “Tuition support is essential and, when paired with the additional supports of coaching and access to emergency funds, DC Futures will be an excellent catalyst for helping our residents start and complete their higher education goals.”
A college degree has been connected with increased access to job opportunities, increased earning potential and networking opportunities. However, conversations about the rising cost of college and the grip that college debt has on many Americans, has compelled high school graduates to explore other options.
Data released last month showed a significant drop in college enrollment nationwide, especially in community colleges. It’s no different locally, where community colleges in the D.C. metropolitan region have experienced enrollment decline of at least 10 percent. Experts also cite declines among students seeking bachelor’s degrees. This trend, which ramped up during the pandemic, has incited fears about the shrinking of a high-skills workforce.
Even though Green said she’s found success without a college degree, she values the discipline that college instills. It has forced her to balance time between her studies, wifely duties and obligations to a grandchild she currently homeschools. However, she asserts that her responsibilities haven’t deterred her.
“I love my classes. My legal and writing class hits my soul,” Green said. “The attention to detail and getting into the weeds of things, looking into situations and understanding if that’s [considered] breaking the law. You can drill down deep to understand the laws of a state or country. In another class, I learned about the various forms of business and the loopholes a person can find for themselves.”