Community college answer to nation's student loan debt crisis


Delaware Tech graduate Omosanya “OJ” Cole is feeling very confident about his future. As the Delaware resident told reporters in February at an event celebrating the 10th anniversary of the SEED scholarship, “I chose Delaware Tech because of the SEED scholarship, and when I graduated with my associate degree in business, I was debt-free. I got a job at the local bank and have since received four promotions. I earned my bachelor’s degree, got married, bought a home, and started my family. The SEED scholarship was a great benefit to me and helped me get to the point I am today.”

Dr. Mark T. Brainard Dr. Mark T. Brainard

Millions of college graduates aren’t so lucky. Recent media coverage notes that college costs are at an all-time high and the country is facing a student loan debt crisis.

Delawareans are not immune to this growing problem; one in nine students is carrying some form of student debt. According to a national study, by 2023, student loan debt is predicted to exceed the median annual income for college graduates, a fact that undermines the very reason students pursue higher education in the first place … to have enough money to provide a better life for their families.

But Delawareans have options, and Delaware Tech has increasingly become a wise choice for many. Here’s why.

High-quality programs, low tuition

Delaware Tech is committed to providing access to higher education for Delawareans, offering nationally accredited programs that provide students with high-tech, hands-on educational opportunities that connect them with in-demand careers — all at an affordable cost. Over the years, our board of trustees, the state’s governors and members of the General Assembly have been firmly committed to our mission of providing access, enabling the college to keep tuition affordable.

In fact, Delaware Tech’s annual tuition and fees ($3,380) is the lowest of all the higher-ed institutions in the state and one of the lowest community college tuitions in the region.

Debt-free education for nearly 70 percent of graduates

Approximately 70 percent of Delaware Tech graduates walk across the stage at commencement free of student loans, but low tuition is not the only factor. Since 2000, financial-aid awards have increased fivefold from $7.5 million to over $37 million.

Financial-aid awards include scholarships such as the SEED Scholarship Program, which covered OJ Cole’s tuition.

Thanks to the support of Gov. Jack Markell, Gov. Ruth Ann Minner, Sen. Harris McDowell, the Joint Finance Committee, and other members of the General Assembly, Delaware high-school graduates can attend Delaware Tech tuition-free as long as they maintain a 2.5 GPA or higher and stay out of trouble.

Since the fall of 2006, approximately 7,400 students have benefitted from the program, and data shows that SEED students are successful. They complete more credits, have a higher grade-point average and are more likely to complete a degree than non-SEED students, even after their SEED benefits expire.

Furthermore, the college offers over 100 privately funded scholarships made possible by donors and campus fundraising events. OJ Cole also applied for and received a scholarship that covered the cost of his books and fees.

High return on investment

A Delaware Tech education is not only affordable thanks to low tuition, financial aid and scholarships; it’s a high-yield investment. Employers tell us that our graduates are job-ready, which is why, in 2014, 600 Delaware businesses hired our graduates.

In fact, 96 percent of our 2014 graduates are either employed or continuing their education at a four-year institution. And for every dollar that students invested in their Delaware Tech education, they’ll see a rate of return of approximately 18 percent. Consider the average annual starting salaries for graduates of these programs: nursing (associate degree) — $56,500; diagnostic medical sonographers — $57,221; and mechanical engineering technology — $51,979. (Source: Delaware Department of Labor)

Start here, finish there … and save

Even for those who want to pursue a career that requires more than an associate degree, Delaware Tech can provide the solid educational foundation students need while saving them thousands in tuition. We call these Connected Degree programs, and we’ve made them a priority.

Students can take advantage of more than 190 Connected Degrees that provide seamless transfer from the associate degree to the bachelor’s degree at 18 colleges and universities; 154 are with the state’s four-year institutions. With a connected degree, students pay less for their first two years at Delaware Tech, yet, they are prepared to transfer and graduate from some of the region’s most-respected bachelor degree programs.

That was the path followed by OJ Cole. After receiving an associate degree in business, he went on to receive his bachelor’s in marketing.

Ultimately, thanks to Delaware Tech’s affordable tuition, two scholarships, and a program that created a clear and economical pathway to a bachelor’s degree, he’s started a career and a family without the kind of student debt highlighted in your article that is crippling so many recent college graduates. “My family and I have a great life,” Cole says, “and that all started with a great education. Delaware Tech was the right choice for me.”

Editor’s note: Dr. Mark T. Brainard is president of Delaware Technical Community College.

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