Kowalko: Hey, UD president: Not so fast with the stats, bud

The News Journal | Guest Column | by Rep. John Kowalko

It is a fact that the University of Delaware is a premier secondary educational institution in Delaware.

It is also a fact that total student enrollment has been growing steadily while the percentage of Delaware resident students has declined significantly.

Receiving over $120 million in taxpayer monies each year should allow UD to provide more access and outreach to in-state students.

Instead Delaware taxpayers and families are presented with statistical data by President Assanis that is purported to be an explanation or excuse for the disparity in numbers of Delaware residents enrolled at UD.

As is often the case, statistics are being manipulated.

What responsibility does a public university have to the students in our state? Delaware only has two public universities. We are a state with very limited options for our students. What should our two universities be doing to educate our students?

UD’s president claims that the K-12 schools are failing and therefore Delaware students cannot succeed at UD. However, only 38% of accepted students enroll? Why?

The easiest excuse is to blame the previous group — K-12 — for the failings of the present. But is this justified when so few students accept?

And even if it were true — what should our public schools be doing to make sure its residents succeed when they enroll? When increased amounts of aid are sent to UD each year, where is it going? Where should it go?

We have no idea, of course. While UD is considered on the one hand to be the state’s public option and it receives over $120 million each year from state coffers, it enjoys an exemption written into Delaware code allowing it to keep its finances secret and avoid Freedom of Informaction Act requests.

How could money to UD better serve our students? Direct aid? Free tutoring?

Why would Delaware not require its university to make sure our students are recruited, financially stable and academically aided when taxpayers provide so much financial investment?

What better investment for the future of our state could we make?

What is somewhat disconcerting is Dr. Assanis’ statement to the Joint Finance Committee regarding the ever dwindling number of in-state students enrolling at UD as a percentage of the student body.

There has been a consistent drop in the percentage of in-state students enrolled at the main campus over the past two decades, and Dr. Assanis offers some creative narratives as to why that is the case.

He ignores the reality that Delaware offers only two public university options at a comparatively high rate of tuition for in-state students compared to multiple options in neighboring states that offer a significantly cheaper tuition for their residents.

I find Dr. Assanis’ statements in his most recent op-ed inconsistent with a frank assessment of the root cause of under-enrollment of in-state students.

He attempts to conflate the real percentages of admittance numbers offered in his JFC testimony: “Last fall, 3,652 Delawareans applied to UD’s Newark campus. While 68.1% were admitted, 1,394 or 38% accepted a place at UD.”

His willingness to combine and compare the main campus’s four-year bachelor’s degree with its two-year Associate in Arts programs certainly paints a different picture of the situation and does not generate an intellectually honest apples-to-apples comparison.

Assanis’s rather unflattering portrayal of Delaware students as not qualified in his response to the Joint Finance Committee — “I am not the one holding back the kids in Delaware to come into the university … We need better-qualified students who come out of our K-12. Because we don’t want to put them into a first-class environment and then lead them to having mental health problems” — offers some insight into where and who he is choosing to blame for the University’s failings.

Delawareans have earned the right to a highly regarded educational experience for their children, and they have certainly funded that opportunity with taxpayer funding totaling over $120 million each year.

It is well past time for administrative excuses for a dwindling access to the University.

Appropriate recruitment and training for Delaware students should be of the highest urgency and a top priority of the University.

— Rep. John Kowalko, 25th District, Newark

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