Viewpoint: As DSU invests in hometown workforce, Kent County will see rewards
By Tony Allen
The University is one of the area’s largest employers. Our students and employees shop in the area, and we rely on local retail businesses and contractors. Nearly 4,000 of our graduates teach in the local schools; take care of patients in local medical facilities; work in area businesses; and raise their families here.
Our footprint has expanded over the years from our main campus on DuPont Highway to include the Living & Learning Commons in north Dover, two farms in Smyrna, Aviation holdings at Delaware Airpark in Cheswold, and into the city with the Schwartz Center and our NCALL business incubation partnership.
Since July 1 that footprint includes Downtown DSU, the home of the new Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, and future location of the Early College High School. It’s 50 acres and 21 buildings in our state’s capital and represents the single greatest expansion of the university’s infrastructure in our history. Our economic impact each year is upwards of $300 million, of which $180 million is exclusive to Kent County.
Tying ourselves closely to the community we call “home” is integral to our intent to become America’s most diverse, contemporary Historically Black College or University (HBCU). But what does this mean for Dover and Kent County?
It means that students will continue living, pursuing their education and spending their disposable income on Main Street. By 2024 we project that there will be more of them than Dover has seen in many years. During that same period, we will be contracting with a wide variety of local businesses to assist with renovation and expansion, always emphasizing local hiring whenever possible.
For area medical providers it will mean more nurses, occupational therapists and other health professionals. The university is poised to begin graduating twice the number of nurses than the two existing programs had produced. Delaware nursing fill rates still hover around 20% and nurses of color are too often conspicuous by their absence; we intend to make a difference.
We are committed to training the skilled employees that Dover and Kent County businesses need via our workforce development initiatives that now offer over 65 certificate programs and counting. The area has consistently lagged in terms of the percentage of college-educated workers in the population. Now that Inspire has been increased to a full-tuition scholarship for all Delaware high school graduates with at least a 2.75 GPA, the prospect of a debt-free, high-quality education awaits hundreds more local students every year.
Our current forecast is that Delaware State University’s expansion into downtown Dover will inject an additional $110 million annually into the area’s economy.
We are also investing our intellectual capital right here at home.
As a Land Grant HBCU we have a proud tradition of partnering with area farmers in crop diversification, digital marketing, extension services, and much more. Our research into plant diseases, disparate rural health outcomes, and urban sustainability are directly relevant to the challenges faced by our friends and.
One hundred and thirty years ago, the Delaware College for Colored Students enrolled our first seven students. Dover had a population of 3,200 and only 33,000 people called Kent County home. We’ve grown together. Today the University enrolls over 5,000 students, Dover is a thriving city of 38,000, and Kent County’s population exceeds 183,000.
The best is in front of us and very clearly connected to a concept we call “The Power of WE.” Our students, staff, faculty, alumni, and friends have proven that we can: face real challenges with resolve, abandon traditional thinking for innovation when necessity demands; encourage partners to bring their time, talent, and resources to a noble mission; and speak truth to power with the “audacity of hope.”
Everyday, we aspire to that clarion call and are proud to do so in the place we call home.
Dr. Tony Allen Ph.D. is president of Delaware State University.