Jobs for Delaware Graduates – A Local Idea That Sparked National Change

4 months ago

Forty-three years ago, in 1978, at a time when Delaware had the highest unemployment rate in the United States and the second-highest dropout rate…when the state income tax rate was the highest in the country…when companies were leaving the state, and new ones wouldn’t move to the state, late Governor Pete du Pont had an idea. That idea was creation of the Jobs for Delaware Graduates program. Five working groups made up of public and private sector leads, drawn from business, education, workforce, labor union, and community leadership, worked together to develop the model of Jobs for Delaware Graduates.

Pete’s mission for Jobs for Delaware Graduates was to enable students to achieve academic, career, personal and social success by offering programs for in-school youth, dropout recovery and follow-up services. At the time, the Governor insisted “We can do better – far better,” and organized a series of Task Forces to develop the first model for the program. 

As explained by Ken Smith, who worked for the Governor and now serves as the President of JAG: 

“At that time, I was Governor du Pont’s Chief Education Advisor, so I was responsible for organizing all of it and presenting a final plan to the Governor and the cabinet for a decision. Late one evening – almost midnight – after some very difficult discussions about the state budget being in shambles and many other issues, Governor du Pont told the weary group that the plan for Jobs for Delaware Graduates was done and ready for decisions and asked me to present it.

Looking at some exhausted cabinet members over cold cups of coffee (and I have to admit, a cigarette or two), I made my best case for the program. When I was done, the Governor asked for comments. Most said, “Gosh, Ken, great idea … surely need to do something, but we just can’t now…we simply have no capacity to do this…only a small amount of political capital to spend, and the issues are much bigger.” Then the Governor asked for a vote from the cabinet and senior staff. There were 12 no’s by the time it got around to me (again with kind remarks), and I said “Yes.” The Governor paused a second and said, “The ayes have it. Our young people cannot wait, the schools cannot wait, and our employers cannot wait. Let’s see if we can do something far more effective, far more accountable, and far more cost-effective than what we’re doing now for the poorest and most disadvantaged youth in our schools.” We launched Jobs for Delaware Graduates two months later.”

The Jobs for Delaware Graduates model worked so well, it led to the creation of the Jobs for America’s Graduates (JAG) program. Pete, a Republican, and then-Vice President Walter Mondale, a Democrat, worked together in bipartisanship to make Jobs for America’s Graduates possible. 

Over the years, both programs have continued to grow. Since its inception, more than 60,000 students have been involved in Jobs for Delaware Graduates programs. JAG now operates in 34 states with over 1,000 program affiliates and has served over 1.5 million graduates. 

In 1990, Pete spoke at a press conference to taut the success of both programs. Click here to see Pete proudly speak about watching his idea grow, bringing a future of opportunity and empowerment to young people.