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VIEWPOINT: Del. sets standard with free college tuition scholarship

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Delaware led the nation in 2005 when it became the first state in the country to offer two years of free college tuition to recent high school graduates.

The Student Excellence Equals Degree (SEED) scholarship was born thanks to the foresight of former State Sen. Harris B. McDowell, who recognized that college was too expensive to be a realistic option for many Delaware students. The General Assembly passed the SEED bill, which was then signed into law by former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, a fellow champion of free college access.

Mark Brainard | PHOTO COURTESY OF DTCC

The SEED scholarship has been an overwhelming success over the last 16 years, motivating students with a few basic criteria – work hard, get good grades, and stay out of trouble. More than 13,000 Delaware students have had access to higher education thanks to the SEED scholarship and today Delaware remains a national leader in free college access.

Now, the First State is poised to become a national leader in retooling our workforce for the post-pandemic economy, thanks again to the SEED scholarship program.

New legislation, known as SEED+, was signed into law by Gov. John Carney this month to expand the SEED scholarship beyond recent high school graduates to include Delawareans of all ages. It will be available not only to students pursuing an academic degree, but also Delawareans seeking workforce training in areas such as diesel technology, allied health, or information technology (IT). This expansion will make a debt-free education attainable for thousands of adults. That includes a 19-year-old who took a gap year following high school graduation, a 35-year-old who went straight into the workforce and now wants to earn a college degree, or a 50-year-old who would like to switch careers.

Unfortunately, the global health crisis of the past 19 months has created significant economic disruption and uncertainty, taking a tremendous toll on Delaware’s economy and the working-class families of our state. Many Delawareans were forced out of the workforce as a result of necessary decisions employers had to make to help save lives. Now that many people are seeking better paying jobs and considering career changes, we are fortunate that our General Assembly had the foresight to build on one of the state’s most successful education programs to make training and education accessible to even more Delawareans.

State Sen. Nicole Poore | PHOTO COURTESY OF STATE OF DELAWARE

For years, higher education advocates have been calling upon our federal officials to extend Pell grant benefits to include workforce training and certification programs. Delaware has accomplished this with the expansion of the SEED scholarship program. In short, this ground-breaking legislation is going to transform Delaware’s workforce for the next generation.

Delaware Tech stands ready to offer life-changing degree and certification programs to students who have never before had the opportunity to attend college, helping them gain the skills they need to get to work. We have both seen firsthand the difference the SEED scholarship has made for thousands of students over the past 16 years, and we cannot wait to prepare even more SEED students for the Delaware workforce and their next educational pursuits.

Thank you to Gov. Carney and the members of the 151st General Assembly for expanding this critical scholarship program for the benefit of our students, our state’s employers, and the people of Delaware for many years to come.

Mark Brainard is president of Delaware Technical Community College, while State Sen. Nicole Poore is the prime sponsor of the SEED+ legislation. Both are also DTCC graduates.

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