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A Good Offense

January/February 2020

By Karla Hignite

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Delaware State University employs a strategy for staying relevant by addressing student and employer needs.

Board Chair Devona Williams calls Delaware State University, Dover, a hidden gem. Even so, the university’s growing enrollment suggests that more students and families are discovering the value of this public land-grant, historically black university. Since its founding in 1891 in then-segregated Delaware, the university has become increasingly diverse in its programming and student composition, says Williams, president and CEO of performance management consulting firm Goeins-Williams Associates Inc.

Nearly 43 percent of Delaware State’s 5,000-plus students are first-generation college students. In addition to serving a majority black student population (67 percent), the university serves a growing Latinx population, more than 150 students participating in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, and approximately 200 international students both on campus and abroad. Another area of growth for Delaware State in recent years is transfer students—many of whom never quite managed to complete those final course requirements, Williams says.

Delaware State is currently in its fourth year of operating an early college program for high school students that has become one of Delaware’s most innovative charter schools, Williams says. More than 50 percent of students in the program matriculate through Delaware State, often completing enough coursework to enter the university as a sophomore or even as a first-semester junior. The first two graduating classes have collectively amassed well over 11,000 credits—which amounts to about $48,000 in college savings on average for each matriculating Delaware State student and his or her family, Williams says.

Smart Growth

“Even with our success in attracting and serving new populations of students, we understand our growth must be smartly managed so that we continue to flourish in today’s climate,” Williams says. So, Delaware State is broadening its online offerings and expanding its programming with certificate and adult professional development education. To prepare graduates for the workforce, each of the university’s four colleges works closely with a business advisory council to determine what knowledge and skills employers are seeking and ensure that course content meets those needs.

In addition to its main campus in Dover, the university encompasses two satellite campuses and two farm properties that support the institution’s agriculture program. The university also has a base of operations at the public-use airport Delaware Airpark, where it runs its renowned aviation program that dates back to the Tuskegee Airmen, according to Williams. “During World War II, when Congress allowed pilots of color to be trained, Delaware State was one of the early designated training sites.”

In recent years, an aging fleet of airplanes and a waitlist for accepting students prompted university leadership to request support from Delaware’s General Assembly for acquiring new planes, Williams says, which are now arriving. “We are extremely proud of this program, and our state understands its value as we contribute graduates to a career field where there is an industry shortage.” Delaware State’s aviation program boasts a 100 percent placement rate for its graduates and provides professional pilot training at the lowest cost east of the Mississippi, Williams says.

All-Around Readiness

Delaware State has also focused on student success by becoming enrollment ready, career ready, and world ready:

KARLA HIGNITE, Fort Walton Beach, Fla., is a contributing editor for Business Officer.


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