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Delaware Senate Democrats

Delaware Senate passes bills to expand workforce training, higher education opportunities

April 27, 2021

DOVER – The State Senate on Tuesday passed legislation designed to strengthen Delaware’s workforce by helping hundreds of students and working adults obtain the skills they need for in-demand, good-paying careers in the post-pandemic economy.

Senate Bill 12, sponsored by Sen. Nicole Poore, will provide financial assistance to hundreds of working-class adults seeking skills training at Delaware Technical Community College and the University of Delaware, while Senate Bill 95, sponsored by Sen. Trey Paradee, will help hundreds of local high school graduates earn a bachelor’s at Delaware State University and enter the workforce debt free.

“One of these bills is focused on providing new skills to adults in the workforce today, while the other will help students develop the capabilities they need to thrive in the job market of the future,” said Senate President Pro Tempore Dave Sokola, D-Newark. “But, at the end of the day, both are leveraging relatively small investments to produce lasting returns for our economy and the economic prosperity of working families in Delaware. Our workforce got us through the pandemic and we’re keeping our promise to keep them from being left behind in the recovery.”

SB 12 will expand Delaware Technical Community College’s landmark scholarship program to adults and others currently excluded from the Student Excellence Equals Degree scholarship program (SEED), which has provided free college credits to nearly 13,000 local high school graduates since 2005. 

Known as SEED+, the legislation will help adults seeking higher-paying careers develop new skills through Delaware Tech’s non-credit workforce development programs or its academic credential courses, nearly all of which are transferable to the state’s four-year colleges and universities.

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.

“After enduring month after month of this pandemic, Delaware’s working families deserve more than our gratitude. They deserve an opportunity for a better life,” Sen. Poore, D-New Castle, said.

“SEED+ will provide the working men and women of this state the skills they need to earn more , maintain job security, and weather future downturns in our economy – no matter their age and no matter their background,” she said. “I want to thank all of my colleagues in the Senate for voting today in solidarity with Delaware’s workers and in support of an economic recovery that’s built to last.”

“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+ will help remove the hurdles that prevent so many of our neighbors from seeking a better life for themselves and their families.”  

The Senate on Tuesday also passed legislation to expand the Inspire Scholarship program to fully cover the cost of in-state tuition at Delaware State University – the First State’s lone HBCU.

To qualify for an Inspire scholarship, students must have graduated from a Delaware high school, complete 12 or more credit hours per semester, maintain at least a 2.75 grade-point average, complete 10 hours of community service and file for federal student aid once a year. 

Like SEED+, Inspire is a last-dollar scholarship, meaning state funding only would be used to fill the gaps between federal aid and the full cost of tuition.

Senate Bill 95 also addresses a critical shortage in higher education attainment among Delawareans, particularly people of color. Delaware’s post-secondary attainment rate (41.4%) – including both degrees and credential programs – lags behind the national average (51.3%), with attainment rates for African American (29.7%) and Hispanic students (18.8%) both below the state and national average.

“Over the decades, there has been no greater engine of economic prosperity for people of color than Delaware State University and there is no better way to help our students earn a degree and start their adult life debt free than by expanding the Inspire Scholarship program,” said Sen. Paradee, D-Dover. “This legislation is a down payment on economic justice that will help all Delawareans access the tools they need to thrive in our state’s workforce.”

“Delaware State has represented hope and opportunity to tens of thousands of Delaware residents, many of whom are the first in their family to attend college,” said Rep. Stephanie T. Bolden, the lead House sponsor of SB 95 and a DSU graduate. “The Inspire Scholarship opened even more doors to Black and Brown Delawareans, but now we are taking this last, critical step to fulfill our state’s commitment to our young people, that if you apply yourself, you can get a quality college education at DSU and emerge without the crippling burden of debt. I’m grateful that we are providing this opportunity to our young people, and I look forward to passing it in the House.”

SB 12 and SB 95 now head to the House for consideration.