COMMENTARY: SEED pays for vocational training at Delaware Tech

As general counsel for Delaware Technical Community College, I am compelled to respond to the recent editorial proposing changes to the SEED scholarship (“Changes needed in SEED program,” Feb. 16).

The writer, Eric Buckson, is a member of Kent County Levy Court and a full-time teacher at Polytech High School. As an elected member of Kent County government, Mr. Buckson must surely know the vital role Delaware Tech plays in local economic development. After all, community colleges are the primary driver of economic development at the county level, which is why the overwhelming majority of community colleges across our nation are supported by a local property tax. It is difficult to imagine how Kent County’s largest private employer, BayHealth, could have expanded as it has over the past decade without the skilled workforce provided by Delaware Tech graduates.

In addition, as a public school teacher, Mr. Buckson should be familiar with the academic and vocational programs that are available at Delaware Tech for his students who desire to continue their education. Which is why I found it curious that Mr. Buckson would question the value of the SEED scholarship, which has provided access to higher education for over 15,000 Delaware students at Delaware Tech since 2005. Even more curious was Mr. Buckson’s suggestion that his employer be included in the SEED program on the premise that vocational and technical training is not currently available.

Unemployment in Delaware is not just the result of a lack of jobs. It is also the result of a lack of people with the education and training needed to fill the jobs that currently exist. When our state was facing a shortage of nurses, it was Delaware Tech that met the need by nearly doubling the size of our nursing program, while continuing to maintain licensure passage rates that are consistently among the highest of any institution in the state, including the four-year institutions.

The college also trains many of the other professionals that doctors and hospitals rely upon to provide quality local health care such as radiology technicians, phlebotomists, occupational therapy assistants, respiratory care technicians and many other specialties that are indispensable to hospital operations, including 14 that are only offered at Delaware Tech. More than any other institution in the state, it’s Delaware Tech that provides the highly skilled workforce that allows major employers like BayHealth, Christiana Care, and Beebe Medical Center to expand their operations, thereby infusing millions of dollars into the local economies and creating hundreds of jobs in the process.

In addition, Delaware Tech fills critical workforce needs in agriculture, business, information technology, automotive, criminal justice, transportation, culinary arts, aviation maintenance, advanced manufacturing, energy management and over 185 other programs offering academic degrees and certificates that provide Delawareans with the technical training they need to secure good-paying, local jobs.

Ninety-six percent of our 2017 graduates are employed or continuing their education. Fifty-three percent of them are doing both. At Delaware Tech, nearly two-thirds (64.3 percent percent) of all SEED students have either graduated, obtained a job, transferred to a senior institution or are still enrolled. Since SEED only pays for three years and requires full-time status, students who drop to part-time status or continue their education beyond three years do so at their own expense.

Contrary to Mr. Buckson’s assertion, the SEED institutions are not “essentially” an extension of our public education system. They are a vital component of our public education system. The K-12 schools, Delaware Tech and the University of Delaware each have an important part to play, and the system works best and most efficiently when each institution focuses on their respective role.

Although Delaware Tech provides transfer education with over 265 connected degree programs at 23 separate four-year institutions that guarantee placement of our graduates as juniors, our primary focus is vocational training and workforce development. Delaware Tech does not offer liberal arts degrees and does not offer courses in French or require students in our automotive program to take organic chemistry. Students who attend Delaware Tech do so because they want a job, and Delaware Tech gives them the vocational and technical training they need to get one.

Providing relevant and affordable job training that is responsive to Delaware’s workforce and community needs is Delaware Tech’s mission. It was created for the very purpose of providing post-secondary vocational and technical training and has been successfully fulling its mandate for the past 50 years.

Delaware’s efforts to make a college education available to everyone regardless of economic or social status should be commended. No one is saying that college for the sake of college guarantees prosperity. However, it is undeniable that college graduates on average earn more money, receive better benefits, are more likely to be offered a job, and have greater job satisfaction than someone without a college degree. Every Delawarean should have the opportunity to pursue the American dream, and that’s what SEED provides.

A national model for over 10 years, Delaware’s policy makers should be supporting this critical program with additional resources and expanded opportunities at the existing SEED institutions, not criticize an overwhelmingly successful investment by our state in Delaware’s current and future workforce.

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