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IW will not pursue partnership with Saint Leo, will continue to look at new collaborations

The P.E.O. Memorial Building is seen at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. The school's interim preisdent, Chris Plunkett, comes in as the school seeks to improve its financial situation after nearly being forced to close last year. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The P.E.O. Memorial Building is seen at Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant on Wednesday, Oct. 16, 2019. The school's interim preisdent, Chris Plunkett, comes in as the school seeks to improve its financial situation after nearly being forced to close last year. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MT. PLEASANT — Iowa Wesleyan University will not be moving forward with its partnership with Saint Leo University in Florida. Both institutions decided in December that entering a partnership would “not be in the best interest” of the universities, according to Iowa Wesleyan’s president, Christine Plunkett.

The process for a partnership began after IW announced financial difficulties in November of 2018, which revealed the university was struggling to find the funds to stay open through December of 2019. Originally slated to be signed in June of 2019, Plunkett explained that the institutions took their time to “do their due diligence” to examine the “regulatory concerns” presented by a potential partnership, which included determining accreditation and debt adjustments between the two institutions.

“There will be no sudden impact,” she reassured about how dissolution of the partnership will impact the campus.

Because the university had not begun any official steps toward a partnership with the Florida-based university, IW will not see any changes in classes or services offered to students.

“We are business as usual,” Plunkett repeated on several occasions, describing the attitude she and the faculty and staff have taken in the face of the challenges the university has faced the past two years.

While Plunkett acknowledged that the dissolution of the partnership may be disappointing, she also pointed to the fact that the university is currently in a much different position than it was a year ago.

The president highlighted several key changes that has affected the status of the university, including a new line of credit with its lender, USDA.

“Our partnership with our lender USDA is very strong and very supportive. They have signified that they will continue to work with us and look at options to help facilitate a path forward. Part of [what has changed is] that we have a line of credit that we did not have a year ago,” Plunkett added. The president assured that the university currently has the “resources to operate through the end of this year and beyond.”

“It’s everyone’s hope and intention that the university remains open, but I always have to temper that with saying that like other small universities across the country … every single year, we have to evaluate what the future looks like. So I’m not able to make any affirmative promising statement of the future other than to say that it’s the intention to remain open,” Plukett said.

The president explained that a main draw the university faced was the potential loss of access to the Iowa Tuition Grant. The grant is a financial-aid program which provides about $6,000 each year to Iowa resident students attending a private university of college in the state.

“A full merger with Saint Leo, because we would be accredited by their accrediting agency in Florida, we would have lost access to the Iowa Tuition Grant, which would have been a great barrier for many students,” Plunkett said.

The president explained that the grant program is especially important in light of the fact that the university has made a point to create new programs and initiatives specifically geared toward southeast Iowa students. This has included the new agribusiness program which was launched in the previous semester, as well as the new wrestling programs. The loss of the grant could impact enrollment numbers.

“Losing that piece of grant money is something that would not serve our students well and does not serve our mission,” she commented.

In terms of next steps, Plunkett explained the New Directions Team, which was created in the face of the university’s financial issues in 2018, would reconvene before the end of the month and would most likely revisit former proposals it received from the university’s prior request for proposals. Plunkett added the university will continue to “look for new and creative ways to serve the region.”