Iowa Wesleyan University leaders say more than a dozen organizations are interested in partnering with the small, historic, private school in Mount Pleasant. Administrators are trying to build a new future, after the school nearly shut down late last year for lack of funds.
According to administrators, Iowa Wesleyan has recieved a slate of "diverse" requests for proposals under its Alternative Futures project, which aims to chart a new future for the school after it announced it was on the brink of closure in late 2018. School President Steven Titus says he's been impressed by the interest the university is seeing, which includes more than a dozen "serious and substantive proposals."
“We were really struck I think by the diversity of proposals that came from a variety of institutions," Titus said. "For profit, not for profit, educational, non-educational, domestic, international. So I think that diversity of proposals was a really interesting experience.”
A school oversight board is reviewing the proposals. It’s not clear what a partnership could entail and the private institution is releasing limited details. But school President Steven Titus has warned the university can no longer survive as it was.
“There’s much more of this going on across the country than people might imagine," Titus said. "The climate within the sector of higher education is one that is, I guess I would say is receptive to, mergers, partnerships.”
Like other small private schools across the U.S., Iowa Wesleyan is grappling with rural population loss, overhead costs and student financial needs. The school also boasts a diverse international student population, and emphasizes enrolling first generation students and those from low income families.
Iowa Wesleyan is also seen as a pillar in the Mount Pleasant community and is major contributor to the southeast Iowa economy. Local residents and businesses say the school is a vital part of this corner of the state. Late last year, Kristi Ray with the Mount Pleasant Area Chamber of Commerce said she could barely imagine the community without the school.
"This is 177 years old. The university was here before the state of Iowa!" she said at the time.
Titus has said that finding a way to keep the school open longterm may entail transformational change, and that higher education more broadly is entering a "new frontier." Still, he says ten years down the road he expects enrollment to grow for undergraduate and graduate students and certificate seekers at Iowa Wesleyan.
"We have been able to understand what our responsibility is to the community that we serve and the region that we serve, and really frame our future around that," Titus said.