Iowa Wesleyan University will stay open for another school year. Administrators say donations from alumni, community donors and a collaboration with the USDA's Rural Development Office will be enough to keep the university afloat, at least through the 2019-2020 school year. But school leaders are warning that institutional change is necessary for longterm fiscal sustainability.
There will be a spring semester at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant, and a 2019 – 2020 school year too, after the school's Board of Trustees voted Thursday to continue "moving forward". That was not guaranteed after the group determined earlier this month the university of about 700 students did not have the funds to stay open past this December.
School leaders credit the university's future to an outpouring of support from students, alumni, and supporters across southeast Iowa. Board of Trustees President Annette Scieszinski says other colleges and universities wouldn't survive this kind of pressure.
"On a different campus that might be facing the magnitude of issues that we have faced, it would've been a totally different kind of reaction," Scieszinski said.
University President Steven Titus says the amount of support is an indicator of Iowa Wesleyan's economic impact, which ripples far beyond the small tree-lined campus in Mount Pleasant.
"I think it speaks of the commitment of this community. But I think it illustrates how important institutions like this are to rural communities," Titus said.
Administrators say they’re actively recruiting next year’s incoming class, and that there will be no cuts to staff or scholarships, and no tuition hikes beyond typical year-to-year increases.
But President Steven Titus says change is necessary. The school prides itself on making higher education available to first generation students, students of color, international students and students from low-income backgrounds. Approximately 69 percent of the student body is eligible for federal Pell Grants. Titus says now the school may need to recruit more students who pay full tuition.
“And I think that’s the opportunity for us to grow. So as we grow we just need to have…make sure that we are balanced in terms of the financial profile of our student," Titus said. "We are a little imbalanced right now.”
Administrators say expanding the school's donor base is vital, and that they are open to a potential merger with another school, and other partnerships that can support long-term sustainability.
Titus emphasizes the school is seeing some of the same factors that are impacting higher education writ large. Across the country, students are seeing tuition costs increasing while state support is decreasing, all while younger generations leave behind rural areas for better job and housing prospects in bigger cities.
"These are really difficult and dynamic times for higher education across the country. I think when you look at institutions, particularly in rural communities, the last, really the last five to seven years have been especially difficult," Titus said. "We have not been immune to some of those challenges here."
Robert McConnell directs the Southeast Iowa Symphony and has taught at the university as an adjunct professor since 1982. He says the school remaining open "beats the alternative by miles". But he says there is still work to do. He hopes the institution becomes more transparent about its finances.
"With a state school, like up in Iowa City, they're publishing salaries, everything in the paper every year. And here, people are really completely in the dark about what's going on that way," McConnell said. "But I think they're commited to more transparency and I think that'll help the donations in the long run."
Titus says some students have already left the school, and he expects others will transfer to different colleges and universities. But after recently transferring to Iowa Wesleyan, Junior Ashley DeMeyer is relieved the school will stay open.
"I definitely don't want to leave at all. I was forced to look just in case, but now that I have this answer I'm definitely not going to leave," she said. "I do trust that they will figure it out. I really hope so."