Delaware State University sets enrollment record, improves student retention

The state-sponsored Inspire Scholarship and the Early College School that takes kids starting in middle school have brought more students to the Dover school.

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Delaware State University

Delaware State University's campus. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

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The steps Delaware State University continues taking to attract students have led to record enrollment even as college attendance has dropped nationwide.

University president Tony Allen said 6,451 students were enrolled for the fall semester, an increase of 3.5% from last year, and 23% higher since 2020.

“We have overcome some notable trends in higher education,’’ Allen said, noting a report from the National Student Clearinghouse that shows enrollment falling across America for over a decade. “It’s been a journey and we’ve been fortunate. That’s why I’m cautiously optimistic about it.”

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One program boosting enrollment has been the Inspire Scholarship, a state-sponsored program that offers four years of free tuition to all Delaware high school graduates who have a 2.75 grade point average. Allen said that 79% of Delaware State’s 750 first-year in-state students have Inspire scholarships.

Another successful tool has been the Early College School, a dual enrollment program that lets Delaware middle and high school students earn up to 60 credits from the university.  Some 600 students are now in the program, which begins as early as middle school, and “about 60% of them are coming to Delaware State,” Allen said.

Also fueling the growth is an increase in graduate students, who now number nearly 900, as well as more transfer students and a boost to online enrollment, which is now at almost 800 students, about 40% of them living in the Caribbean, Allen said.

In addition, the Dover school boosted enrollment by several hundred students with the 2021 acquisition of Wesley College, also located in Dover.

Delaware State University is one of about 100 historically Black colleges and universities in the United States. Currently, about 62% of students are Black, and Allen says that while he wants his school to continue to be the top choice of in-state high school graduates, continued growth depends on diversifying the student body.

Allen says the school is optimistic about its future prospects, and a goal to reach 10,000 undergraduate students by 2030. One way to get there is building up its College of Health and Behavioral Sciences, Allen said.

But Allen, who joined the university in 2017 and became president in 2020 after a career in banking, said he’s taking nothing for granted.

“The reality is, getting them in the door is only the first step. Keeping them here and getting them across that stage’’ at graduation “is important,’’ he said. “I think what we’ve learned from the pandemic is that our students want to consume their education in different ways. So whether that be hybrid, online, or traditional in-class learning, we need to have all those modalities.”

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When he joined Delaware State seven years ago, barely 6 in 10 freshmen returned for their sophomore year, Allen said. But today that figure is at a “steady 75% and we’re looking to get to 80,’’ he said.

Allen used a football analogy to stress that the school will doggedly keep seeking to improve and expand.

“So I’m feeling good about our prospects, but it is block and tackle every day,’’ Allen said, “and making sure that we understand the pulse of the workplace that they’ll be entering and the students that we’re serving.”

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