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Delaware Senate Democrats

Sen. Poore Sponsors SEED+ Bill to Provide Free Skills Training to Workers Impacted by Covid-19 Pandemic

April 13, 2021


DOVER – Sen. Nicole Poore introduced legislation Wednesday that will help retool Delaware’s workforce for a post-pandemic economy by providing hundreds of Delawareans with the skills for new careers in high-demand fields.

Senate Bill 12 will expand on the highly successful and landmark Student Excellence Equals Degree program, or SEED, which has provided free college credits at Delaware Technical Community College to nearly 13,000 local high school graduates since 2005.

Known as SEED+, the legislation would open the scholarship program to adults and others previously excluded. The expansion would allow hundreds of additional Delawareans to seek new skills through either Delaware Tech’s non-credit workforce development programs or its academic credential courses, nearly all of which are transferable to Delaware’s four-year colleges and universities.

More than half of Delaware legislators have signed on as cosponsors of SB 12, including Democrats and Republicans from all four Caucuses.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a tremendous toll on the working-class families of our state, many of whom were forced out of work and out of the workforce by the drastic and necessary decisions required to keep people alive,” said Poore, vice-chair of both the Senate Labor and Senate Health & Social Services committees.

“Those families deserve our help as they work toward achieving a better life than the one they left behind in March 2020,” she said. “We absolutely can – and should – to everything in our power to give those workers the tools they need to embark on new careers, particularly in those fields where Delaware desperately needs a skilled workforce.”

SEED+ is specifically designed to assist adult workers with little or no previous higher education experience. who were hit hardest by the pandemic.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate for people with a high school diploma or less jumped more than 12 percentage points from February to May 2020 – more than twice the job-loss rate experienced by people with a bachelor’s degree or more. Workers with a high school diploma and no college education also exited the labor force at three times the rate as those with a bachelor’s degree.

“Any amount of post-secondary education or skills training helps workers earn more, stay employed longer and weather downturns in the economy,” said House Majority Leader Valerie Longhurst, the House prime sponsor of SB 12. “But when you are already living paycheck to paycheck, that education becomes all-but unattainable. SEED+ help remove the hurdles that prevent so many of our neighbors from seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”

SEED+ also will serve to bolster Delaware’s overall workforce and make the First State a more attractive destination for large employers.

“We believe that in order to have healthier patients, and a healthier Delaware, we have to have a diverse and thriving healthcare workforce that is able to meet the needs of our neighbors,” said Pamela Ridgeway, chief diversity officer and vice president of talent at ChristianaCare, Delaware’s largest private employer. “To do that, it is critical that we expand opportunities and help create pathways for Delawarean to explore careers in healthcare. By expanding Delaware’s SEED scholarship program, more Delawareans will be able to reach their goals and their dreams.”

The demand for an educated workforce is only increasing with 70% of all jobs now expected to require some education beyond high school by 2027. Delaware’s post-secondary attainment rate (41.4%) – including both degrees and credential programs – currently lags behind the national average (51.3%), with attainment rates for African American (29.7%) and Hispanic (18.8%) students significantly lower than the state or national average.

“Delaware has been the national leader for free community college since 2005, and the SEED scholarship program has been an indisputable success, serving working families, employers and, most important, our scholars, by providing access to high-quality careers through educational opportunities,” Delaware Tech President Mark Brainard said. “Sen. Poore’s enhancements couldn’t come at a better time as Delaware emerges into the post COVID economy and an ever-changing labor market. Once again, SEED will have an incalculable positive impact on our state for many years into the future.”

Some of Delaware Tech’s most successful programs are geared specifically toward good-paying, high-demand fields such as nursing, teaching, law enforcement, HVAC, renewable energy, diesel technology and entrepreneurship. With campuses in all three of Delaware’s counties, Delaware Tech also offers unparalleled convenience for our state’s working families and some of the highest graduation and employment rates in the state.

SEED students also have better first-year retention rates, higher rates of credit accumulation and higher associate-degree completion rates than their peers, according to the independent nonprofit Research for Action.

Nearly 72% of first-year SEED students in 2019 re-enrolled last fall and 72% of those students remain in good academic standing, Brainard said.

“The SEED scholarship opened the doors to a college education for me by reducing my financial burden and expanding my opportunity to pursue my dreams,” said Ayushi Shah, a Milford High School graduate and SEED recipient who is pursuing a medical laboratory technician associate degree. “I am a youth ambassador for World Literacy Foundation, president for National Student Leadership and Success, running for college president and plan to be an anesthesiologist after graduation.”

Delaware Tech estimates more than 300 Delaware workers could receive two semesters of free training and/or college credits for each $1 million invested in the proposed SEED+ program. Like the original SEED program, SEED+ would be a last-dollar scholarship, meaning state funding only would be used to fill the gaps between federal aid and the full cost of tuition.

“The SEED scholarship was a big deal for me,” said Jonathan Bernal, a Paul M. Hodgson Vocational Technical High School graduate and SEED recipient, who is majoring in biological sciences at Delaware Tech.

“It made college more affordable, while giving me an amazing education with professors who want to see you succeed,” he said. “After my last semester, I plan on going to the University of Delaware for Biological Sciences and applying to medical school. Trying to get into such an expensive career path is a big reason I went to Delaware Technical Community College first.”