As the General Assembly gathers this year, they have a lot of thinking to do. They must decide, by voting with dollars, where their priorities lie. Their investments should be wise and beneficial to our collective futures. And they’ve got to get a bang for their buck!
There are few investments that have as much impact on the local economy as infrastructure for higher education.
The investment in infrastructure for any capital improvement provides a multiplier effect. It pays a return on payroll taxes from construction workers, gross receipts taxes from vendors, and provides discretionary incomes. It brings the local economy to life. But an investment in higher education has an added benefit: it aligns our workforce and government with the economic development strategies of the present and the future.
If we look around the country, communities that suffered less during the recession and rebounded well during the recovery were those who were either government (D.C. & Virginia), petroleum (Texas), technology (Silicon Valley) or education centric (San Diego, Boston, North Carolina).
Delaware has a unique opportunity to emulate one of those areas – education. In a recent report by the Delaware Business Roundtable, they reaffirmed other states’ commitments to higher education, showing Delaware being dwarfed by Maryland, Massachusetts, Texas, and Washington with per capita and public sector investment. And while the report shows a stark contrast to these geographies, we should rest assured that our community is robust with excellent institutions of higher learning. What is missing is the alignment and investment from the public sector to propel each institution and thus our economic future.
Take, for instance, Delaware Tech recently celebrated its 50th year of educating nearly 50,000 of our neighbors. But because of their success and their patience with the public sector’s investment, perhaps we have taken them for granted.
Did we know that more than 650 employers hired their graduates last year? Did we know that they have bridged the gap between Delawareans and four-year colleges & universities with over 230 transfer agreements? Did we know that 96% of their students either get a job or continue their education? Did we know that they are graduating nearly three times the nurses they did over a decade ago?
Well then why in the world have we let their facilities degrade the way we have? And why aren’t we positioning their classrooms, work spaces and laboratories for the workforce of the future?
Delaware Tech is about to reach a state of crisis, and we need to quickly respond. By the year 2020, they will have a list of deferred maintenance items in excess of $100 Million. In other words, if we allow them to continue to decay, we will need to spend $100 Million BEFORE we can think about advancing them into the future.
The irony here? Inside Delaware Tech, there are highly skilled professionals teaching health majors, IT programs, engineering, and specialized skills that connect their students to jobs in the local economy. Their lesson plans would never include a chapter that suggests we ignore critical planning and constant execution for facilities. We must invest in this results-driven institution that makes our state stronger!
The results won’t be instant, but the solution exists in the General Assembly to fix our community college’s deferred maintenance backlog. It is time to act.