Two years ago, more than 70 percent of Delaware State University's freshman class was made up of in-state students - a number that pleased university president Dr. Allen L. Sessoms, who said he wants the college to cater to Delawareans.
This school year, however, in-state enrollment for incoming freshman dropped to 29 percent, and Dr. Sessoms is afraid that the downward trend will continue next year.
While overall enrollment is up at DSU, Dr. Sessoms said he is disappointed to see that fewer Delawareans are choosing the school.
He attributes the problem to Gov. Ruth Ann Minner's Student Excellence Equals Degree program, which provides tuition to Delaware students who enroll fulltime in associate's degree programs.
Not only does Dr. Sessoms think SEED is limiting students' economic potential, but he also thinks it could be limiting the state's economic future.
"Sending students to what in some sense is a limited future doesn't help Delaware companies," he said.
Gerard McNesby, vice president of finance with DelTech, disagreed that students are hurting themselves or the local economy by enrolling in associate's programs instead of four-year universities.
He stressed that nurses, paramedics, automotive technicians and other valued professionals throughout the state hold associate's degrees.
"DelTech produces a highly qualified, highly educated and well-paid workforce," he said.
Lisa Hastings, a spokeswoman for the college, said the average annual salary for someone with an associate's degree in Delaware is $50,000.
Additionally, she said DelTech graduates are hired by 517 employers in the state.
"We're certainly serving the needs of the businesses depending on us," she said.
Dr. Sessoms agreed that DelTech graduates go on to hold important jobs, but he said they're usually not the kinds of careers that drive the economy.
"People with associate's degrees tend to work for people," he said. "(DSU) is trying to create entrepreneurs who have people work for them."
Dr. Sessoms said he would prefer to see the SEED program expanded to include four-year colleges and universities.
He said he understands there isn't enough money in the SEED program to completely fund four-year degrees, but he believes that students who qualify for the scholarship should have the choice to put the money toward a bachelor's degree.