2018 Economic Forecast: Education

Higher education in Delaware spans two-year art schools, such as the Delaware College of Art and Design, to nationally respected universities, such as the University of Delaware. All colleges in the state are seeing changes coming from within and without, in the form of new student populations, emerging partnerships with outside industries, and the uncertain role of the federal government. We spoke with representatives from a mix of Delaware-based schools to get a sense of what’s ahead.

New student populations

One clear trend among Delaware colleges is the growth of older students seeking secondary education for the sake of employment.

“In 2018, higher education institutions will continue to see the presence of ‘nontraditional’ student populations — those attending college who would be 25 years of age or older — who seek to obtain a degree or certification,” said Katy Ro, academic dean at Delaware College of Art and Design.

Ro said the growth of older students is due to an “ever-evolving career market,” in which education and training are increasingly important to obtaining even an entry-level job.

“Technology has allowed faculty to develop courses that are interactive and offer students extraordinary learning experiences,” said Dr. Peter Bailey, vice president of external and international affairs at Wilmington University. “Adult students, as well as traditional students, who are balancing work, family and college, can attend classes anytime and anywhere to fit their busy schedules thanks to advanced technology.”

The growth of pre-college prep and dual-enrollment opportunities among college-bound high school students has also raised the stakes, according to Ro. More students graduate high school with high expectations for college, both in terms of academic attainment and cultural fulfillment.

Business collaborations

The pressure to better prepare students for a tough economy has also led to more partnerships with businesses. Often those partnerships center around expanding industries where there may be a skills gap.

“Programs such as cybersecurity continue to be in demand. New programs such as data analytics have been introduced at many universities including Wilmington University, to meet the needs of local businesses,” Bailey said.

The University of Delaware has continued to invest in its Horn Program in Entrepreneurship, which this year moved outside of the Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics and became a schoolwide program.

The move comes as the school pushes to provide some entrepreneurship training to all students,
regardless of their interest in business.

“They’ve always been an umbrella organization that deals with all of the colleges, but now it will be explicit in the way that it’s structured,” said Dustyn Roberts, director of the College of Engineering Summer Founders program, which teaches entrepreneurship to engineering students, earlier this year.

Uncertain federal role

Charles Riordan, vice president for research, scholarship and innovation at University of Delaware, said 2017 saw a number of potentially damaging federal changes.

“There were a number of federal budget proposals in 2017 that would have had negative impacts to university research and the affordability of higher education,” Riordan said. “Among the proposed cuts were R&D budgets, caps on reimbursements for facilities and administrative costs and taxing graduate student tuition waivers.”

So far, none of these proposals has passed. But Riordan said they remain concerned going into 2018.

Bailey said the uncertainty has led to a drop in enrollment, which decreased 1 percent in the fall of 2017, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research. “These declines have been attributed by various sources to the change in the U.S. Government administration,” he said.

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