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Thought Leadership

How Delaware State University Is Enhancing Student Access

Interview with Dr. Tony Allen

President, Delaware State University

Dr. Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, shares how the university is accomplishing its vision of access for all.

Tony Allen is Chief Executive Officer of Delaware State University, which aspires to be the nation’s most diverse contemporary HBCU. A comprehensive research institution with a $140 million budget and a $27 million research portfolio, the 1890 land-grant institution is home to four academic colleges serving nearly 6,000+ undergraduates, boasting graduate and adult programs across the state of Delaware and in 23 countries. In 2021, Allen was appointed to the President’s Board of Advisors on Historically Black Colleges and Universities as Chair, a role in which he continues to serve. 

Recently, he participated in an exclusive panel interview with Kaplan university partners, sharing his insights on:

  • Higher education’s increasing focus on workforce readiness.

  • The importance of meeting students where they are.

  • Enhancing students’ access to educational opportunities.

The following excerpts are taken from the interview.

Tell us about Delaware State University and what you’re most excited about right now.

We are a 132-year-old institution and what I'm most proud about is our vision. We seek to be the most uniquely diverse, contemporary, and unapologetic HBCU in the country, and as we note those things, it is really about access for all of us.

Our portfolio is significant, but without making sure that we can provide access to anyone who believes that they should have an opportunity for higher education, we're just not doing our job. So we're excited about that. We're also the number one choice for students of color in Delaware, to attend Delaware State University. And we're building capacity to create professionals of color not only in Delaware but across the country.

Fun fact: we have an aviation program that really grew out of the Tuskegee Airmen and has been up and running now since 1986. So our ability to make sure that we're providing quality education for all in a thoughtful way, in a meaningful way, is important, we believe, not only to the state of Delaware, but across the country. And I believe that’s a proxy, just one proxy, for the incredible HBCUs across this nation.

Career readiness is a growing conversation around higher education. How are you infusing career readiness into the student experience at Delaware State University?

At Delaware State, we're doing a couple of things. First, we're deepening the talent pipeline. It's very important that you start early, particularly for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. At Delaware State, we have an early college school. It's a school we chartered about nine years ago that starts in the seventh grade and students stay with us through the twelfth grade. When they’re in high school, they can earn up to 60 college credits before they're ever admitted into any university.

About 53 percent of those students actually come to Delaware State, and we're proud to say that next year will be the first time we're offering associate degrees to those high school graduates. It's a really important pipeline for us. Of those students, 98 percent are aspiring first-generation college students. To have them get those credits, which usually makes them a second-semester sophomore, or sometimes a first-semester junior, it cuts the cost because they've acquired those credits from us in high school tuition-free. And it builds capacity for them at Delaware State to graduate early.

Any graduating high school senior in Delaware who has a 2.75 or higher GPA will get a full, four-year tuition-free scholarship to Delaware State. So imagine a high school student, who's already got 60 college credits, could effectively finish their college degree and undergraduate degree in two years, and get their master's degree in four years, all at no cost to them or their family.

We respect career readiness and that's an important piece for us too. I tell companies a lot it is not acceptable for you to come see our students in their rising junior and rising senior year in the same way. Many of my students are first-generation college students.

“Many of my students are first-generation college students. They're also first-generation corporate, which means they were not sitting at the tables of their families talking about what happened at Fortune 50 companies that their mother and father worked at.”

They're also first-generation corporate, which means they were not sitting at the tables of their families talking about what happened at Fortune 50 companies that their mother and father worked at. It really gives us an opportunity to engage them early in our program before they're ever in an internship or placement, so they can ask the questions that they otherwise might not think are acceptable, or would be otherwise too afraid to ask will be very helpful in their careers.

You recently launched Kaplan’s All Access License at Delaware State University. Can you share why you chose to pursue this? Why was it a priority for you to provide students with free access to test prep?

Choosing Kaplan’s All Access License goes back to our mission to be the most diverse, contemporary, unapologetic HBCU with a note toward access. In the past, the barriers around these kinds of tests have been significant for us at Delaware, where for example, we don't have a medical school. We do have a program that has reciprocity with the local school in Pennsylvania. And still, the number one factor for what I believe are very talented students actually taking a step, is their ability to pay for the MCAT®.

The same is true for a number of pre-law students that we have as well. This is not just specific to Delaware State.

“Kaplan’s All Access License could be a game changer for a lot of HBCUs across the country.”

To give you some background, 80 percent of all black judges started at an HBCU, about 50 percent of all black lawyers started at an HBCU, and about 60 percent of all black doctors started at an HBCU. And while the numbers are small, with this kind of program we could significantly accelerate their import and impact in the communities they call home and in our broader citizens. So we're very excited about it.

We have a fair amount of Dreamers on our campus working with TheDream.US. And there are significant barriers that are artificial barriers in their way of ongoing success. Many of them have taken to professional opportunities where they can actually hang up their own shingle in the long term. This becomes a unique opportunity for them as well.

Looking forward five years from now, what do you think is higher education’s biggest opportunity for student success?

My team and I talk a lot about what we learned through COVID. One of those things is meeting our students where they are in much more robust modes of educational opportunity. We are trying to think about how to be a more nimble university as a result. And when I think about that, I often think not about the traditional undergraduate student, but what we call the near-completers. Those folks who show up at homecoming every year, but are now in their thirties and forties and never finished school because of some undue financial burden. I think there's a unique opportunity for us to bring them back into the fold and make sure that we've lined them up appropriately to complete their degree and make sure they have opportunities for additional certifications, and see how many of them want to pursue advanced degrees and professional licenses.

And the other thing I'd say quickly starts with a story. A young man came to my office when I was a provost and wanted to speak to me right away. He was scared, nervous, and at the end of our conversation, he finally told me why he was there. He said, “I'm homeless.” And I said, “How long have you been homeless?” He said, “Since I was a sophomore in high school.” I said, “What's your year at Delaware State University?” And he said he is a sophomore at Delaware State.

Just for a minute, think what it takes for a sophomore in high school to even think about college. Then apply to college, get admitted to college and never tell anybody about his plight for another two years. That young man worked for me from that moment on, and is now a teacher in the Baltimore City Public School. Those are the unique opportunities for access for all, and we are committed to and proud to be partners in this conversation.

Watch the full interview.

Learn more about Kaplan's All Access License.

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