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UD proposes expanding health programs, free tuition

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Looking to the future, the University of Delaware has requested state funding to offer free tuition to Delawareans that come from a family with a household income up to $75,000.| DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

DOVER —  The University of Delaware is seeking state funding to support two key initiatives: growing the health care workforce and offering affordable education to more Delawareans.

UD has requested $7.3 million to expand the university’s health science programs and another $4.7 million for the expansion of First State Promise, a program that covers tuition and some other costs for four years of income-eligible Delawarean students.

“I feel like our state is at a critical inflection point,” UD President Dennis Assanis told the state legislature’s Joint Finance Committee during his Thursday presentation. “We’re still dealing with COVID-19 services, and we need to invest in our future to make our society more healthier, more educated and competitive.”

Gov. John Carney has allocated $128 million to UD in the state’s Fiscal Year 2023 budget, a 2% increase from last fiscal year. However, that allocation includes $1.26 million for student scholarships and financial aid initiatives and nothing for UD’s health care studies expansion.

The state’s largest university has a popular nursing program, often ranked in the Top 100 schools in the country. UD has 2,500 nursing applicants per year, but its program has space for just 170 first-year students, Assanis added. 

Compounded by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic stress on health care systems, many professionals are being pushed out of the medical field. Southern Delaware is contending with a rise in demand for doctors, nurses and other medical professionals as it faces a population boom and a historical lack of service.

With the $7.3 million requested, UD would be able to hire additional staff to graduate roughly 375 more students in epidemiology, speech pathology and medical and molecular sciences. It would also graduate 205 students on various nursing tracks.

The university is also working with Bayhealth and Beebe Healthcare to increase the number of clinical placements in Kent and Sussex counties. Without the financial support from the state, the university would still work to expand the program, although it may be done at a slower rate, according to UD officials.

“We need a long-term solution to this challenge,” Assanis said. “We must increase the number of nurses and other health care workers in Delaware. We must invest in the future.”

In addition to expanding the health sciences program, Assanis also sought additional funding for the First State Promise, the proposed financial aid program for Delawareans, which would welcome another 1,000 students to UD.

As proposed, First State Promise would provide aid in the form of scholarships and grants that come with no payback. Students who choose to live on campus would still pay for room and board costs. 

Families with a combined household income up to $75,000 would cover all four years of tuition and fees, would still have to pay for room and board if the student lives on campus. Families with a combined household income of $35,000 or less would see the entire cost of attending — including room and board— covered through the program and a federal Pell grant. Households that earn more than $75,000 annually would still see aid, although that would be on a different scale.

UD implemented the First State Promise this fall to students in the lowest income bracket, but another $4.7 million from the state would expand it to all Delawareans next year.

“I can’t tell you how passionate I am about this, about making the university accessible for every family under $75,000 so that we can increase the pipeline of students coming to the university,” the UD president said. “Every year we have 19,000 Delawearns graduate high school, and about half of them apply to university.”

The First State Promise would mirror what other states, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, have offered in terms of financial aid dependent on income and residency requirements. New Jersey recently unveiled the Garden State Promise program which offers free tuition for students from a household income less than $65,000 at Stockton University for their final two years.

Half the families in Delaware would qualify for this program based on median household income, Assanis added. But he also noted the program would eliminate many barriers set for low-income residents, providing them a path to high-paid positions.

UD admitted 1,483 first-generation college students and 1,671 students from an “underrepresented minority” in 2021.

“Education benefits the entire state, since residents who have bachelor’s degrees earn, on average, $30,000 a year more than those with only a high school degree,” Assanis said.

Tuition at UD for in-state students, including room and board is $31,562 per year. For out-of-state students, tuition and other costs amount to $53,422. The university raised tuition rates 2% this year.

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