Delaware State University receives Gates Grant

By Christi Milligan

Delaware State University has been awarded a $75,000 planning grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to offer a strategy that could increase retention and graduation rates at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).

DSU is one nine HBCUs selected for the planning grant.  According DSU President Dr. Harry L. Williams, the school is submitting a plan already successfully piloted in its STEM-driven program.

DSU-Dr-Harry-Williams-
Dr. Harry Williams, president of Delaware State University

Called an Individual Development Plan (IDP), the initiative would provide resources and mentoring to each of the school’s 900 freshman to help them successfully navigate their freshman year. The pilot program includes new student orientation, training camp and peer mentors.

“Eighty percent of our kids are first generation, they’re low income,” said Williams. “When that first generation comes in, this is a foreign land. They don’t know the inner workings of how things happen.”

Williams specifically pointed to frustrations of financial aid. “If you had someone that was designated as a personal coach, that would help.”

DSU has a graduation rate of 36 percent, according to Williams. The national average is 50 percent.  The school’s retention rate for freshman moving to sophomore year is 70 percent, with the national rate at 75 percent.

By contrast, University of Delaware, the state’s other public, comprehensive university has a retention rate of 92 percent and a graduation rate of 84 percent.

“We have been identified by Gates as an institution that recognized and understands you have to change to be competitive and responsive to the needs of the people you’re serving,” said Williams.  But the president also pointed out that the foundation recognizes the service HBCUs provide to students of disadvantaged socio economic backgrounds.

The Gates Foundation has called DSU and fellow winners of the planning grants Transformational Universities.  Williams said the foundation will select one or more of the group’s initiatives to receive additional funding to create the nuts and bolts of a strategy to be incorporated at other Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

“Once these initiatives are proven successful, they can be shared with other HBCUs to bring about widespread transformative change for the better,” he said.

Williams said the foundation is soliciting potential partners to work with HBCU’s in funding the final initiatives.

“When the Gates Foundation partners with you it is a long-term relationship,” said Williams, who hosted officials from the foundation last year. “They have been very deliberate in getting to know the institution.”

Williams has indicated that while it is important for the University to continue to embrace its legacy as an institution that has historically provided opportunities for those who may not have had any other chance to achieve a college degree, DSU also has to be vigilant about embracing change and develop new and more efficient ways of managing the business of an academic institution, while continuing to remain true to its fundamental mission – educating its students.

DSU will submit their plan and budget to the Gates Foundation by the end of February .

Other HBCUs selected for the Gates Foundation planning grant include Claflin University, Dillard University, Fayetteville State University, Jackson State University, Johnson C. Smith University, Morehouse College, Spelman College and Xavier University. DSU is the only Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference school selected by the foundation. 

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