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Delaware’s universities, colleges lobby for state funding

Katie Tabeling
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The University of Delaware announced it would reinstate the indoor mask mandate, days before commencement. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

The University of Delaware is seeking millions to expand a program that offers free tuition to in-state students from households that earn $75,000 or less. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER — Salary raises, a center of safety and wellness, and scholarship funds were the top priorities of Delaware’s three publicly-funded universities and colleges, but some requests were not fully funded in Gov. John Carney’s proposed $5.28 billion Fiscal Year 2024 operating budget.

Between the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College, the proposed FY 2024 operating budget allocates a combined $276 million. Leaders at all three universities appeared before the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee on Feb. 2 to make the case to retain funding or even seek additional funds.

Expanding First State Promise

UD requested $7.9 million to expand First State Promise, a program that fully covers tuition for select in-state students, while it was budgeted at $4.9 million.

UD President Dennis Assanis touted the success of the First State Promise program, noting that 2,100 Delawareans are benefiting from it. The program is reserved for in-state students whose families earn less than $75,000.

For families that earn $35,000 or less per year, the First State Promise and Pell Grants cover the entire cost of attending UD. But with additional funding, the university could grant aid to families who earn more than $75,000 on a sliding scale.

“Since I’ve joined [UD], we’ve seen a 17% increase in students with need-based financial aid. The advantage of First State Promise is it’s open to all Delawareans from the most vulnerable socio-economic circumstances,” he told legislators.

First State Promise launched in 2021 as a one-class pilot program with $5.4 million in assistance. The state granted $3.6 million last year to expand the program, while UD funded $10.2 million.

Carney’s proposed budget also included a combined $1.5 million between UD and DSU for its 4 + 1 dual enrollment partnership, specifically for faculty and programming.

The dual enrollment partnership would allow DSU students to earn a bachelor’s degree in engineering physics at the Dover university and then come to UD for a master’s in electrical or computer engineering. 

This program could be completed within five years, compared to the maximum of seven years. As UD is ranked 54th in engineering programs nationwide, Assanis noted this program would go far in diversifying the pipeline of STEM careers in the state.

“It’s modest investment to support engineering students at both UD and Delaware State University will benefit them and the entire state for decades to come,” he said.

Carney’s proposed operating budget includes $137 million in state funding for UD. Tuition at UD is $13,370, not including mandatory fees.

Safety tops DSU request

Amid protests and calls from DSU students to improve safety measures at the state’s only historically Black college, DSU President Tony Allen pushed the creation of a Center for Safety and Well-Being to the top of the list.

“Because of the moment and our need to make sure that we’ve heard our students and our campuses are sized appropriately, the center is a high priority for us,” Allen said to lawmakers. “We know it’s not on the original list, but we hope as you go through the process, you would consider it strongly.”

For weeks, DSU has been at the center of calls for change, as two sexual assaults were reported within two days of each other in mid-January, according to the Delaware State News. Students staged protests and have been heavily lobbying the administration for safety improvements.

With an additional $952,500, Allen said the hope is to hire more staff including an associate director of disability services, access and assistive technology technician, infection control nurse, community health nurse educators and trauma specialists, as well as nurse practitioners, mental health coordinator and victim services liaison. The proposal is not funded in the FY 2024 operating budget.

Allen fielded several questions from legislators about on-campus safety, with Sen. Dave Lawson (R-Dover/Marydel) asked whether DSU anticipated that crime stats would affect enrollment.

“I’m hoping not, but my real intention is to lean in on this issue,” Allen said. He also provided a list of internal measures and changes made on campus to help prevent crime on campus to legislators.

Among other top priorities Allen hoped to see additional $630,000 to expanding and re-accrediting DSU’s nursing program and $532,000 to expand its aviation program. Carney has set aside $213,800 for this in the budget.

DSU’s nursing program has grown from 327 to 577 undergraduate students and eight graduate to 65 graduate students within five years. The university hopes to expand its graduate students to more than 100 by 2026. The additional funding requested would hire six new faculty and staff positions. 

As for the aviation program, the additional funding would hire six new staff members, buy more aircrafts and would work toward Aviation Accreditation Board International accreditation. The FY 2024 operating budget sets aside $213,700 for this request.

Carney’s operating budget proposal sets aside $44.7 million for DSU. Tuition for an in-state student is $7,038.

Salary increases for Del Tech

Del Tech President Mark Brainaird had one main request for the JFC, and while it was included in Carney’s operating budget proposal, he still was met with hard questions from the committee.

The state’s community college requested $932,000 to offer salary increases for faculty members. Last year, Del Tech and the state rolled out a three-year plan to get faculty members at Del Tech up to a median salary offered throughout the state.

A few years back, a study showed that Del Tech faculty ranked 15th out of 19 Delaware public school districts in terms of competitive salary. Last year, Brainaird noted that with the funding provided by the state, Del Tech was approaching the “middle of the pack.”

The state funding would support instructional personnel and others that are “essential to operations of the college.” Salaries for instructors can range between $50,000 and $60,000, according to Del Tech officials.

However, Republican lawmakers quizzed Brainard on turnover at the community college. Rep. Ruth Briggs King (R-Georgetown) asked about a workforce climate survey that was ultimately scrapped. 

Brainaird said a the participation rate of 43%, and staff worked hard to get staff members to participate. Once a new survey was done, he said it would be shared through the college via a working group first. Briggs King did not find the 43% response rate satisfactory, although Del Tech officials later told the Delaware Business Times that its consultant the participation rate was average.

Lawson asked many questions about the salary disparity between the scores of other staff members and the eight top highest paid staff members, a combined $1.2 million. He also pushed about rumors of a unionization effort.

“I think that’s a bit inaccurate. We have a pretty open environment and work climate at Delaware Tech,” Brainaird said.

Del Tech is set to receive $94.1 million in Carney’s proposed operating budget. Tuition for a minimum of 12 credited hours is $1,826 for in-state students.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story states that Del Tech disregarded its employee survey. Del Tech officials say they will share the results of that survey with the entire faculty and staff via a working group. Its consultant noted that 43% was average.

 

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