University of Delaware’s (UD) President Dennis Assanis owes the talented and hardworking students of Delaware an apology.
In response to a question during the recent Joint Finance Committee meeting about why fewer than 40% of the school’s students come from Delaware, President Assanis explained:
“I am not the one holding back the kids in Delaware to come into the university,” Assanis said. “We need better-qualified students who come out of our K-12. Because we don’t want to put them into a first-class environment and then lead them to having mental health problems.”
In this moment of off-the-cuff candor, President Assanis managed to deliver a slap in the face to the local students while also ducking accountability for the university’s part of the problem.
President Assanis is not wrong for noting that Delaware’s public education system needs to do a better job ensuring many more students are ready for college.
But his statement obscures the fact that this state is still brimming with qualified students and the University of Delaware and our state’s leadership are not doing enough to make UD accessible and affordable for them.
I know this to be true because as a co-founder of TeenSHARP — a college access organization — I regularly see the tremendous talent and persistence of Delaware’s students.
I am inspired by the more than 100 black and Latino students in TeenSHARP’s Striver program who spend a full day at TeenSHARP every Saturday during the school year taking college-level courses with professors, building habits of academic success, and taking math classes with master teachers from Delaware’s public schools.
I have witnessed the unparalleled drive of the more than 200 students from across the state in TeenSHARP’s Delaware Goes To College Academy program who spend their summers completing an intensive boot camp to increase their awareness about higher education.
Yet, for all of the talk about wanting to attract local students and increase diversity at the University of Delaware, we are yet to see the type of proactive and intense outreach that would let our students know they are really wanted on campus.
It is no surprise then that UD’s main campus typically only welcomes around 200 black freshmen– out of more than 4,000 freshmen.
Colleges in California, Minnesota, Oregon, Maine, Michigan, Massachusetts, and many other states regularly fly our students in —at no cost to the student— to visit their campuses. Yet, without TeenSHARP’s initiative and intervention, most of our students would finish high school without ever stepping foot on UD’s campus.
In his presentation, President Assanis mentioned UD’s new Early College Credit Program, which provides free UD courses online to eligible juniors and seniors in Delaware. While this is a positive development, unlike Delaware State University’s Early Bird program and Wilmington University’s Early College Credit programs, students do not have the opportunity to take those courses on UD’s campus.
The lack of deep and sustained outreach is just one of the leaks in the pipeline of local students to UD. Many other qualified students are lost at the admissions and financial aid stages of the process.
For example, one of our students overcame major health challenges during high school while maintaining a rigorous academic schedule and compiling a very impressive leadership track record. The student was denied admission to UD’s main campus and was accepted to the UD’s Associate in Arts program. This student is currently attending a top-tier college with a 30 percent admissions rate.
In President Assanis’ rejoinder to his remarks last week, he touted that UD provides “Delawareans with substantially discounted tuition” that results in “Delawareans paying an average of about $7,000 a year after financial aid.”
While this is great for some, it is often cost-prohibitive for many low-income students. This is why many of our students find themselves attending college out-of-state at universities that meet their full financial need, allowing them to graduate debt-free.
We would not need to blame the qualifications of Delaware’s students if leaders in this state would devote the resources needed to provide the type of gap-filling scholarships that would make a huge difference for low-income students in Delaware.
The university could also expand the supposedly limited pool of local qualified students with a decision from its leadership to stop charging undocumented Delaware students out-of-state tuition which essentially makes college unaffordable for them.
Between UD’s $1.4 billion endowment—the 75th largest in the country— and the State of Delaware’s $1.4 billion budget, I am certain it is possible to show a much greater commitment to local and underrepresented students.
But leaders at UD and the highest levels in our state need to first acknowledge that there is so much more they have the power to do to make college accessible and affordable for Delaware’s students.