UD wants millions more for scholarships

Dennis Assanis

DOVER — The University of Delaware is seeking to cover the cost of tuition and fees for lower-income Delaware students by asking lawmakers to provide an extra $22.5 million over the next four years.

Appearing before the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee Thursday, President Dennis Assanis detailed his request for additional taxpayer dollars on top of the nine-figure sum the university gets from the state annually.

“I want to make education free for all the children from families making less than $75,000,” Dr. Assanis said.

For UD, those funds would ideally come in four installments: $2.25 million in year one, $4.5 million in year two, $6.75 million in year three and $9 million in year four and every year thereafter. Gov. John Carney’s recommended budget allocates $122.7 million for the university, a 3.4 percent increase over the current fiscal year, although most of that comes from money that is simply being reallocated from elsewhere in the state budget.

The new money for UD in the proposed spending plan is about $1.19 million, a hike of 1 percent for the university. That funding would go toward scholarships for low-income Delawareans.

But lawmakers didn’t seem eager to commit more money beyond the amount Gov. Carney included.

Sen. Dave Lawson, R-Marydel, bristled at Dr. Assanis’ description of “free” college, noting the costs are simply shifted elsewhere.

“Well, we’re going to make it free by taking it out of the taxpayers’ pocket — your pocket — to make it free for somebody else. There is no such thing as free,” he said after the hearing, elaborating on his comments to Dr. Assanis.

“Somebody pays somewhere, so it’s great to have that idea, but that’s socialism, plain and simple, if I’m going to take it from you and give it to you. Well, you didn’t do that, I did that as government. That’s not right.”

Delawareans attending UD are paying about $13,700 in tuition and fees this school year, although that does not include room and board, which total about $12,900. About half the undergraduate population lives on campus. Freshmen are required to do so.

According to UD, its average student from the First State is paying about $7,600 this school year for tuition and fees, not counting room and board. The cost for out-of-state students comes to around $34,300 in tuition and other fees this school year (again, not including the $12,900 for on-campus housing).

In-state tuition and fees are up about $500 this year from the prior one, as is the average cost for Delawareans, something noted by Rep. Earl Jaques, D-Glasgow.

Over a five-year period, in-state tuition and fees increased by close to $1,600, while the same costs for non-resident students jumped by about $4,400.

Dr. Assanis said the typical UD student accumulates about $24,000 in debt, down from the nationwide average of approximately $28,000.

His proposal would cover students whose families fall under the median Delaware family adjusted gross income, which was about $76,300 in 2017, per the U.S. Census Bureau.

Dr. Assanis did not know how many more students might be able to attend the university if the requested funding is provided, although he called it “transformational.”

The university’s undergraduate population at the Newark campus this school year is approximately 17,600. About 6,100 of those students are Delawareans, a number Rep. Jaques said he wants to see increase.

Sen. Laura Sturgeon, D-Sharpley, said tuition has jumped about 350 percent since she attended UD in the mid-1980s, an issue she felt officials failed to properly highlight Thursday.

Dr. Assanis disputed her statement, saying rising costs from areas like health care have necessitated tuition hikes.

“Many of the components of the cost equation within our budget have gone up more than the cost of inflation,” he replied.

Some JFC members expressed concerns UD is asking taxpayers to foot the bill rather than dip into its $1.59 billion endowment, with Sen. Lawson questioning when “taxpayers get off this train.”

University officials responded that most of that is already dedicated to specific purposes. Earlier in the hearing they admitted the institution needs to do a better job of promoting the good it does for the state, citing a study that claims UD supports almost 24,500 jobs in Delaware.

Legislators also broached the subject of the university’s ranking atop the Princeton Review’s 2018 list of the top party schools, a designation some students see as a point of pride but decision-makers abhor.

Officials told JFC many students are embarrassed by that ranking, stressing the university is trying to change its reputation, even though Dr. Assanis disputed the Princeton Review’s claim.

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