UD president: Lack of qualified students to blame for low in-state enrollment

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Natalia Alamdari - Delaware News Journal


At a hearing Thursday during which the University of Delaware requestednearly $128 million in taxpayer funds, school president Dennis Assanis was quizzed about why less than 40% of the school's students come from the First State.


His response: “I am not the one holding back the kids in Delaware to come into the university. ... 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.” 


This year, the governor has recommended increasing UD's state funding by $4.6 million, which would bring its total for fiscal year 2021 to $127.9 million. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee heard testimony from UD, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College on Thursday to help determine the state's final budget. 


Throughout the hearing, legislators probed Assanis about the university's enrollment of Delawareans and underrepresented students, groups the school has long struggled to recruit. 


A slowdown in population growth and a lack of qualified students coming out of Delaware high schools are to blame, Assanis said. 


In 2014, 40% of University of Delaware undergraduate students were Delawareans. Five years later in 2019, that number still hovered around 39% ⁠— or 7,480 of the university’s 19,000 undergraduate students. 


“What are you going to do to make that bigger?” Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow, asked.

“If we had just a few more babies in Delaware, and make sure they go through K-12 and graduate successfully,” Assanis replied. “Every baby, every Delawarean who’s qualified, we’ll take. It starts out by having stronger schools K to 12 and

having qualified students when they graduate.” 


Students admitted to UD need to have strong English, writing and math skills to succeed, he said. 


Last fall, 3,652 Delawareans applied to UD's Newark campus. While 68.1% were admitted, 1,394 or 38% accepted a place at UD. Out of the university's 22,849 out-of-state applicants, 2,736 accepted an offer. 


“We may admit them, but they may think there’s a better fit elsewhere. Or maybe they want to leave Delaware,” Rodney Morrison, vice president for enrollment management at UD, said in an interview Friday. “For a lot of students, it’s about personal fit.” 


High schools nationally continue to see increased graduation rates, a trend reflected in Delaware as well. But at the same time, because of increased access to credit recovery programs, college readiness numbers are not improving at the same rate, said Gary Henry, dean of the College of Education and Human Development


In 2019, just over 10,000 Delaware seniors took the SAT. According to CollegeBoard, the company that facilitates the test, 31% of those students met college-readiness benchmarks, meaning about 3,400 Delaware seniors would likely pass a semester of college courses.  


“I think we’d be doing a disservice to students in high school by putting them in an environment where they cannot succeed,” Assanis said.

Both in-state and out-of-state tuition continue to climb at UD. In 2013, in-state residents paid $12,112 per year. In 2019, that had risen to $14,280. In the same amount of time, out-of-state students' sticker price has climbed from just under $30,000 to $35,710. 


"If it wasn't for the out-of-state students, we wouldn't be able to provide to the in-state students such an excellent education," Assanis said. 


Natalia Alamdari covers education for The News Journal. You can reach her at (302) 324-2312 or nalamdari@delawareonline.com


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