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Senate OKs scholarship expansion bills

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The Delaware Senate approved bills Tuesday that would expand access to scholarship programs at state colleges and universities. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER – The Delaware State Senate passed two bills Tuesday that would allow hundreds of students and working adults to obtain needed skills for in-demand careers in the post-pandemic economy. 

Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, will provide financial assistance to adults seeking skills training at Delaware Technical Community College, while Senate Bill 95, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee, will help high school graduates earn a bachelor’s at Delaware State University and enter the workforce debt free. 

“One of these bills is focused on providing new skills to adults in the workforce today, while the other will help students develop the capabilities they need to thrive in the job market of the future,” Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola (D-Newark) said in a statement following the bills’ passage. “But, at the end of the day, both are leveraging relatively small investments to produce lasting returns for our economy and the economic prosperity of working families in Delaware. Our workforce got us through the pandemic and we’re keeping our promise to keep them from being left behind in the recovery.” 

SB 12 passed in a 17-4 vote, with four of the seven Senate Republicans voting against the bill. It will expand the Student Excellence Equals Degree scholarship program (SEED), which has provided free college credits to nearly 13,000 local high school graduates since 2005, to adults and those previously convicted of non-violent felonies or solely drug-related violent felonies while also extending coverage to 10 semesters.

Known as SEED+, the legislation will help adults seeking higher-paying careers develop new skills through Delaware Tech’s non-credit workforce development programs or its academic credential courses, nearly all of which are transferable to the state’s four-year colleges and universities. 

SEED+ is specifically designed to assist adult workers with little or no previous higher education experience who were hit hardest by the pandemic. 

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma or less jumped more than 12 percentage points from February to May 2020 – more than twice the job-loss rate experienced by people with a bachelor’s degree or more. Workers with a high school diploma and no college education also exited the labor force at three times the rate as those with a bachelor’s degree. 

“After enduring month after month of this pandemic, Delaware’s working families deserve more than our gratitude. They deserve an opportunity for a better life,” Poore said in a statement. “SEED+ will provide the working men and women of this state with the skills they need to earn more, maintain job security, and weather future downturns in our economy – no matter their age and no matter their background.” 

The Senate on Tuesday also passed legislation to expand the Inspire Scholarship program to fully cover the cost of in-state tuition at Delaware State University – the First State’s lone HBCU. 

To qualify for an Inspire scholarship, students must have graduated from a Delaware high school, completed 12 or more credit hours per semester, maintained at least a 2.75 grade-point average, completed 10 hours of community service and filed for federal student aid once a year.

Like SEED+, Inspire is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning state funding would only be used to fill the gaps between federal aid and the full cost of tuition. 

Senate Bill 95, passed unanimously in the Senate, also addresses a critical shortage in higher education attainment among Delawareans, particularly people of color. Delaware’s post-secondary attainment rate (41.4%) – including both degrees and credential programs – lags behind the national average (51.3%), with attainment rates for Black (29.7%) and Hispanic students (18.8%) both below the state and national average. 

“Over the decades, there has been no greater engine of economic prosperity for people of color than Delaware State University and there is no better way to help our students earn a degree and start their adult life debt free than by expanding the Inspire Scholarship program,” Paradee (D-Dover) said in a statement. “This legislation is a down payment on economic justice that will help all Delawareans access the tools they need to thrive in our state’s workforce.”

SB12 and SB95 now head to the House for consideration.

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