DSU, Defense Services request more funding from budget panel

 

DOVER — Delaware State University may have to raise tuition if its request for additional funds is denied, the school’s interim president told the General Assembly’s budget-writing committee Thursday.

DSU was allocated $35.2 million in the governor’s recommended budget, and the university is seeking an additional $7 million to cover, among other areas, salary increases, agricultural research and the Inspire scholarship.

Interim President Wilma Mishoe detailed DSU’s request before the Joint Finance Committee, which is spending several weeks hearing from state agencies and other entities as it begins to consider changes to Gov. John Carney’s budget proposal.

While the $3 million sought for the Inspire scholarship will be covered by the Department of Education if the money allocated to DSU is not sufficient, that still leaves $4 million university officials described as crucial.

“Without the additional funds that we’ve requested, we’re going to have to consider increasing tuition for our students, which we really do not want to do, or recruit more out-of-state students,” Dr. Mishoe said.

DSU has about 4,600 students, just under half of which are from Delaware. The rest come from elsewhere, although there are technically fewer out-of-state students than in-state attendees because foreign students are counted in their own category.

Newly admitted students pay either $16,904 (out-of-state) or $7,868 (in-state) per year. Returning students pay a little less.

The university raised tuition 5 percent this academic year. Dr. Mishoe said she would prefer bringing in more out-of-state students to hiking tuition.

Much of the discussion involving DSU Thursday centered on the Inspire scholarship, which allows qualified Delawareans to attend the university for little to no cost. Several JFC members questioned why 343 freshmen are enrolled in the university through the program but only 120 sophomores are receiving the scholarship.

“Is there a way to better screen the students coming in or make more qualifications so that the students coming in are serious and not dropping out of the program?” asked Sen. Bryant Richardson, R-Laurel.

Getting the scholarship in the first place requires students to meet several requirements, Dr. Mishoe noted, such as achieving a 2.75 GPA in high school, having no felony convictions and applying for other scholarships and grants.

Recipients must keep a 2.75 GPA at DSU, complete at least 12 credits every semester and engage in 10 hours of community service every semester.

The large decrease from freshmen to sophomore year is attributable to several things. Many students either drop out of DSU altogether or fail to continue meeting all of the requirements, although they still remain enrolled in the university, Dr. Mishoe said.

According to a DSU spokesman, the most recent class saw 52 percent of Inspire recipients graduate, a rate 9 percent higher than non-Inspire students.

The state is spending $1.6 million this year for 582 Inspire recipients, according to state and DSU data. The scholarship only covers a student’s first three years of college, but a bill backed by Gov. John Carney would grow it to encompass eight semesters.

Funding for that expansion is included in the governor’s budget recommendations.

Public defense

JFC heard from the Office of Defense Services, which is tasked with representing poor individuals accused of crimes, the day before.

The governor’s budget calls for allocating $24.8 million to the office, an increase of $1.6 million from the current year. Most of that comes from increased funding for the Office of Conflicts Counsel, the unit in ODS responsible for providing defense attorneys in multi-defendant cases.

Because of potential conflicts of interest, the Public Defender’s Office cannot represent multiple people charged in the same case. That’s where the Office of Conflicts Counsel, which contracts out to 40 lawyers in the private sector, comes in. OCC pays $90 an hour, a rate that can make it difficult to track top talent.

The state has seen more multi-defendant cases in recent years, partly due to more gang-involved trials.

About 85 percent of cases involving indigent persons go to the Public Defender’s Office, with the rest falling to the Office of Conflicts Counsel.

For the fiscal year beginning July 1, ODS is seeking about $720,000 more than what the governor recommended, mostly due to higher projected costs. Some of that increased estimate stems from last year’s inmate uprising at the James T. Vaughn Correctional Center.

The Office of Conflicts Counsel is representing all 18 individuals charged in the rebellion, which began Feb. 1, ended in the early morning hours the next day and saw the death of correctional officer Steven Floyd. Sixteen of the 18 inmates are facing murder charges.

The exact cost of the defense is not known, although it will be “a lot,” Chief Public Defender Brendan O’Neill said.

That makes the $600,000 ODS is asking for to cover “outlier” cases like Vaughn extremely important in the eyes of the chief public defender.

“Worst-case scenario? The level of representation is deemed to be insignificant and we end up having to do them over again,” Mr. O’Neill said.

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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