Washington Evening Journal
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Decade of money trouble closes book for historical school
MT. PLEASANT — The vote this week to shut down Iowa Wesleyan University and turn the campus over to the U.S. Department of Agriculture as collateral for a $26 million loan was unanimous by the 20-member board of trustees.
School officials said they saw no alternative for the oldest co-ed independent university in the state, founded in 1842. While critics said a $12 million ask from Iowa’s COVID relief funds was an unreasonable request for an institution already in debt, school representatives said the lack of relief was a final nail in the coffin.
“Throughout the year, the board has studied the financials and the projections, and felt hopeful that there would be some relief that would come our way,” Wesleyan board of trustees chair Bob Miller said. “The board is committed that we would not start a semester if we didn’t have the funds to complete it, and that is what has forced us to this decision today.”
The school last faced a financial crisis in 2018, when it announced a two-week deadline to find funds before closing down for good, a goal it ultimately reached along with a planned partnership with Florida’s Saint Leo University, which eventually fell through by 2020.
“At this moment, the university does not have the required financial underpinnings to bridge the gap between strong enrollment and new programming, and the money needed to keep the institution open,” then-president Steve Titus said in a statement Nov. 1, 2018.
Prior to that, the school answered budget woes in 2014 by cutting half of its major programs and parting ways with over 20 staff members in a bid to slash $3 million from its expenses.
“Right now, some of the things we're doing are quite aggressive, perhaps more aggressive than what has been done in the past," Titus said at the time to academic news outlet, Inside Higher Ed. "But that's one of the things I think the board is looking for, so the context is different than it was five, six, seven years ago."
The financial problems overshadow an otherwise rich history for the school, which predates Iowa’s statehood and America’s Civil War. Highlights of its legacy include its status as the birthplace of the international women’s organization the P.E.O. sisterhood, as well as the “air raid” football offense.
Notable alumni include Susan Mosely Gandison, one of the first 2,000 Black college graduates in the nation; Ola Babcock Miller, Iowa’s first female secretary of state and founder of the state highway patrol; award-winning astrophysicist James Van Allen; and record-setting astronaut Peggy Whitson.