Inspire Scholarships Help Boost Delaware State’s In-State Enrollment

When Dr. Harry Williams became president of Delaware State University nearly two years ago, he inherited a school where in-state freshman student enrollment was on a steady decline, with lack of funds to pay for college a key reason given by students for not attending or transferring elsewhere.

This school year, Delaware State’s in-state freshman student enrollment is up 43 percent to 433 from 302, the first significant enrollment turnaround in six years, school officials say.

Total enrollment at Delaware State exceeds 4,000 students, the bulk of whom come from other states along the East Coast. At one point in the past decade, in-state student enrollment had dipped to as low as 187.

Williams credits the eyebrow-raising in-state freshman increase to a decision last year by the state to expand a scholarship program for Delaware high school graduates going to two-year public colleges to include his four-year public college in Dover.

The inclusion, campaigned for over several years in the state legislature with broad bipartisan support and backing of Delaware’s governor, guarantees every Delaware high school graduate with a 2.75 grade point average a state scholarship of up to $3,000 for the first two years of college.

Williams says the state’s decision was extra timely, as the nation’s weak economy has played a role in more students deciding to stay in state to go to college or delay pursuing a college education.

“The state’s action and the economy mixed together,” says Williams, who made securing inclusion in the state scholarship program a centerpiece of his first year as president of Delaware State “You can’t lose investing in education,” he says.

Once the financial barrier was lowered with the added state aid and students “looked at our school and saw it was a quality institution, that took us over the top,” Williams adds.

Williams says 300 of the 433 in-state freshmen received state scholarship aid this fall, the first full year of the program. The grade point average of the student recipients was 3.25, he noted.

The Delaware guaranteed scholarship program for in-state high school graduates attending an in-state school is one of only a handful in the nation. Georgia’s HOPE scholarship set the model for the nation. Tennessee also has a similar program aimed at helping high school graduates who go to an in-state college.

The Delaware State scholarship, called the Inspire Scholarship, requires each scholarship recipient to perform 20 hours of community service. As part of that obligation they will participate in the March 30, 2012, “Day of Inspire.” The program also has a designated coordinator and the school has set up an Inspire Club to help students navigate their college lives.     

Williams hopes the new financial boost and the efforts built around it will help his school attract and retain more students.

He says studies show higher grade point averages affect retention and graduation rates, something he hopes will happen with these students as long as they can afford to stay in the school which has a $15,000 in-state student cost of attendance. He’s even more encouraged, he says, by the fact that 25 percent of the Inspire Scholarship recipients indicated they wanted to go into the STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) disciplines.

“These students are motivated,” says Williams.