WASHINGTON -- When classes start later this month at the University of the District of Columbia, it will be a reinvented school made up of two entities -- a two-year community college open to all and a four-year "flagship" university with selective admission.
It's a big change for the capital's only public college, which for decades had an open-enrollment policy for four-year students. The changes come with a hefty price tag for students: Tuition at the four-year school will be comparable to state universities in Virginia and Maryland.
The tuition increases and the new admissions policy led to protests by students during the winter. But university president Allen L. Sessoms said the changes were necessary because many UDC students needed remedial work and very few were graduating. Enrollment had dwindled from 15,000 in the 1970s to 4,700.
"When I got here, it was pretty clear that the university was not meeting the public trust. It was not meeting expectations," said Sessoms, who came to UDC last fall after serving as president of the historically black Delaware State University.
Ayesha Johnson spent part of the winter in a chilly tent on the school plaza in northwest Washington, protesting the looming changes, but now she is cautiously optimistic.
Johnson, 25, returned to campus last week and began to see where her extra $1,600 was going: fresh coats of canary-yellow paint to cover fading gray walls, working escalators, construction crews and a sense of heightened prestige.
"I'm hopeful," she said. "I understand the plan a little bit better now. You have to give them a chance to do what they say they are going to do."
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Tuition for the community college will be a flat $3,000, with no nonresident surcharge. For the four-year university, the school settled on a compromise that spreads the increase over two years. Students who live in D.C. pay $5,370 this year, up from $3,770; students from the Maryland or Virginia suburbs pay $6,300; those from out of the region pay $12,300. Next year, the rates are scheduled to rise to $7,000, $8,000 and $14,000, respectively.
UDC plans to offer an additional $1 million in financial aid this year to help four-year students cope with the increase.