D.C. Councilman Marion Barry wants the District to pay the tuition tab for residents of the city who are students at the University of the District of Columbia Community College.
"Finances are the biggest impediment to going to college and staying in college, so I want to remove any impediment," Barry told The Washington Examiner. "I want to fund tuition for students attending the community college."
Barry is planning to ask Mayor Vincent Gray to include funding in his fiscal year 2014 budget, slated for release later this month, for scholarships for residents who attend the community college.
With 2,313 D.C. residents enrolled and tuition and fees of $130 per credit hour, Barry's plan could cost the District millions of dollars.
And Barry ultimately wants to expand the scholarships to the four-year University of the District of Columbia, which could add millions more to the expense.
"This is the first step," Barry said. "Money is the number one barrier for students of low-to-moderate income in the District of Columbia."
Barry also said his plan could jump-start educational opportunities for black residents of the city.
"It's really an investment. It's an investment in our present and an investment in our future," Barry said. "In the black community, we used to have a zeal for education. Now, we've lost all that."
Even though the District's budget is slated to grow next year -- recent estimates show the city will have revenues of $6.13 billion, up from $6.05 billion this year -- Barry's plan could encounter heavy resistance.SClBWard 2 Councilman Jack Evans said Barry would have to explain his rationale.
"I'm not sure I support the idea, but I have to look at it before I make any decisions on it," Evans said. "There are a lot of questions I'd have about it."
A Gray spokesman said the administration would consider Barry's pitch as the mayor formulates his budget proposal, which the council will have to approve.
Barry's push comes at one of the most difficult periods in the broader UDC's history as it tries to address a bloated budget and falling enrollment.
In January, about a month after UDC fired its president, campus officials eliminated 97 jobs, including 69 faculty and staff positions.
Those changes followed the release of a "right-sizing plan" that detailed a strategy to slash programs and close campuses of the community college sprinkled throughout the city.