DOVER – Delaware lawmakers are pushing to expand scholarship eligibility with a new bill aimed at helping residents who remain jobless more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.Senate Bill 12would broaden eligibility requirements of the state’s existing Student Excellence Equals Degree program, which is currently limited to recent high school graduates with a 2.5 GPA or higher and no previous felony convictions.
[caption id="attachment_208855" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Students participate in a medical laboratory technology course. | PHOTO COURTESY OF DEL TECH[/caption]
Since 2005, the SEED program has covered tuition for nearly 13,000 local high school graduates who attend Delaware Technical Community College.“The goal of the original SEED program is to help students with the aptitude for college education but struggle with the ability to pay for those courses. But it’s not just a high school student who needs a hand up right now,” said State Sen. Nicole Poore (D-New Castle), who introduced the bill Tuesday during a virtual press conference.SB12 eliminates a SEED provision that requires students to enroll in community college immediately after high school. It also expands scholarship eligibility to 10 semesters, which Poore calls a “critical component” for folks who have to work to support themselves and their families while pursuing higher education.Under the legislation, people previously convicted of non-violent felonies or solely drug-related violent felonies could also apply to the scholarship program.“The expansion would allow hundreds of additional Delawareans to seek new skills through either Delaware Tech’s non-credit workforce development programs or its academic credential courses, nearly all of which are transferable to Delaware’s four-year colleges and universities,” according to a Delaware State Senate Majority Caucus press release.The caucus stated that more than half of Delaware legislators – including Democrats and Republicans in both chambers – are co-sponsoring SB12.The new program, called SEED+, is designed to attract larger employers to the state and assist the 56% of Delawareans aged 25 to 64 who lack a post-secondary degree and are considering a career change.Per the release, Delaware Tech estimated that for every $1 million invested in the proposed program, more than 300 Delaware workers could receive two semesters of free training and/or college credits.SEED+ would operate similarly to the original SEED program as a “last-dollar scholarship”, meaning state funding is only used when there are gaps between federal aid and the full cost of tuition.Lawmakers pointed out that from last February to May, the unemployment rate of people who only have a high school diploma was more than double the rate of those with bachelor’s degrees, while 70% of all jobs are expected to require some education beyond high school by2027, according to a 2020 report from the Georgetown University Center on Education and theWorkforce.
[caption id="attachment_188115" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS[/caption]
“Any amount of post-secondary education or skills training helps workers earn more, stay employed longer and weather downturns in the economy,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the House prime sponsor of SB12, in a statement. “But when you are already living paycheck to paycheck, that education becomes all-but unattainable. SEED+ help remove the hurdles that prevent so many of our neighbors from seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”ChristianaCare, Delaware’s largest hospital system and private employer, also supports SB12 in its effort to have a “diverse and thriving health care workforce,” said Pamela Ridgeway, ChristianaCare’s chief diversity officer and vice president of talent.“To do that, it is critical that we expand opportunities and help create pathways for Delawarean to explore careers in health care,” Ridgeway said. “By expanding Delaware’s SEED scholarship program, more Delawareans will be able to reach their goals and their dreams.”Lawmakers invited SEED recipients like Jonathan Bernal to speak during the press conference.Bernal is studying biological sciences at Delaware Tech and plans to attend University of Delaware afterward. He said he has a lot of family members who want to continue their education but feel strained financially.“They want to change their jobs and I think that’s perfectly fine to do, but it shouldn’t be limited because of financial reasons,” said Bernal, who wants to work at a local hospital or open up his own practice after finishing medical school. “Because of the SEED scholarship I only have one class left and am graduating without debt, which is amazing.”