Iowa Wesleyan University’s future is uncertain as significant financial challenges could close the university’s doors.
On Thursday, Nov. 1, the universtiy’s board of trustees held a special session to discuss the future of the institution as University President Steven Titus posted a letter to the university’s website Thursday, Nov. 1, stating the board of trustees will convene for a second special session on Nov. 15, to discuss whether the institution has the finances to stay open.
“The university does not have a healthy endowment or extensive donor network,” Titus wrote in the letter. “We have attempted to secure funding to establish a solid financial base. Unfortunately, several anticipated gifts simply have not materialized.”
In March the university held a “Retro Radiothon” which reportedly raised $1 million.
In the letter released Thursday, Titus acknowledged the conversation of closing the institution may be surprising for many as the university has seen increased enrollment and retention in the last few years, as well as new programming.
In 2018, the university saw its fourth consecutive year of growth. Previously, The News reported the university had a 6 percent enrollment growth this year, with 70 percent retention of students from the fall of their freshman year to fall of their sophomore year. Persistence — overall retention of students throughout their undergraduate career — is just over 69 percent, exceeding IW’s target of 63 percent persistence for the year.
“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.”
The letter came on the heels of a board of trustees meeting on Thursday, Nov. 1, in which the trustees reviewed the financial projections of the university. Titus wrote the discussion was “tremendously difficult” and will continue in 14 days.
During that time, Titus said university officials will meet with the USDA regional business and community leaders to “explore alternatives.”
Two years ago, the university partnered with the USDA in the federal agency’s community facilities program, which supports rural development and institutions committed to it.
According to tax documents the university is required to make available to the public, Iowa Wesleyan has been operating at a net annual revenue loss of between about $2.6 and $4.6 million for at least three fiscal years. However, it last reported an endowment worth over $15 million, land and equipment valued at nearly $22 million and other assets, The Gazette reported on Sunday.
In an interview with Inside Higher Education, Titus stated the university needs to raise $2.1 million in order to remain open for the spring semester and at least $4.5 million to operate the next year.
“These decisions may have a profound impact on students, faculty, staff members as well as the entire southeastern Iowa community,” Titus wrote. “Iowa Wesleyan’s economic impact to the southeastern Iowa region is over $55 million annually. We feel a strong responsibility and commitment to continue the mission of Iowa Wesleyan University.”
This isn’t the first time the university has struggled financially. In 2014, Inside Higher Education reported the school was cutting 22 of its 52 faculty positions — prompting some employees to wonder how it could remain open. It also cut 23 staff members and 16 of its 31 academic programs at that time.
Titus said the cuts trimmed $3 million from a $20 million operating budget and aimed to prepare the college to grow, according to the publication.
“We think there are opportunities to really move from a small local residential liberal arts college to a more regional institution,” Titus said, according to Inside Higher Ed.
The full letter can be found here: https://www.iw.edu/special-board-of-trustees-meeting-update/
The News will have more information as it becomes available.
Vanessa Miller with The Gazette contributed to this article.