With Iowa Wesleyan University’s board of trustees announcing today (Thursday) if or how they will keep the university open despite significant financial woes, the Mt. Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance approved a $120,000 contribution to the institution to encourage them to find a sustainable future.
The university announced on Friday, Nov. 2, that they are in need of $2.1 million to remian open for a spring semester and $4.6 million to continue operations through December 2019. The board held a special session Thursday, Nov. 15, to make a decision on the future of the university.
Last week, IW professor and alumna Dr. Dolores Poulter Wilson pledged a $500,000 gift and IW President Steve Titus announced they had another verbal commitment from a donor for $350,000 to $400,000
The Alliance strongly encouraged the board of trustees to delay the possible closure of IW and to pursue a new, alternative future, according to a statement released Wednesday, Nov. 14.
“Some people are saying let’s wait and see what happens,” said Kristi Ray, executive vice president of the Chamber and director of the Area Development Commission. “We’re saying we don’t have time to wait. If we’re asking them to stay open, we need to help them stay open. That’s why we went ahead and gave the money now.”
The $120,000 is a gift to IW is from the Chamber of Commerce and the Area Development Commission (ADC), which met Tuesday, Nov. 13 to make a decision on how they could support the university, Ray said.
“(The ADC) decided there is probably no greater driver of economic development in this area than Iowa Wesleyan, and we need to support them,” Ray said.
The AEA holds 28E agreements with the City of Mt. Pleasant, Henry County, the Chamber, Mt. Pleasant Utilities and surrounding communities for the sole purpose of economic development, Ray said.
The money donated from the Chamber of Commerce comes from the membership dues of the business community and fundraisers held throughout the year.
As a nonprofit, the Chamber will take the funds raised throughout the year and give it back to the community in ways that will have the biggest impact. Ray said the board concluded that keeping IW open is important, and they will help in any way they can.
“That gift to the university was a gift from the heart of the business community,” Ray said, adding that the Chamber of Commerce board is made up of business owners in the area.
“We are honored and humbled by the generous support from the Mt. Pleasant Chamber Alliance for the gift in support of the community and the future of Iowa Wesleyan,” Titus said in an email to the News. “This is a testament to the commitment of our business community to the economic well-being of the university and the local community.”
IW employs over 150 people in southeastern Iowa including employees from Sodexo and their physical plant National Management.
If Iowa Wesleyan closes in December, Ray said three things will happen: houses will go on the market, retail sales will plummet, and the number of students in the public schools will decrease greatly.
“If someone works in higher education and they’re scrambling, and they find a job, they’re probably gone, and their spouse and kids go with them,” Ray said.
“If you lose a job at Iowa Wesleyan, you may lose a job at Continental or somewhere else,” Ray continued. “You’ll lose employees at some of the fast food (restaurants) because their kids work there. You just don’t’ know where everybody is working that’s affiliated with that family.”
Ray said the people she has spoken with at IW realize their current business model is not sustainable and there will be drastic changes in the future. The Alliance wants to help them through those changes, Ray said.
“We’re not higher education experts,” Ray said. “We’re not going to tell them how to do this. We’re just going to tell them we’ll work with you on whatever solution you come up with.”
Dave Heaton, former Iowa House District 84 representative and IW alumnus, echoed Ray’s sentiment, saying that the $55 million economic impact the university has on the region doesn’t become a reality until there’s a threat of losing it.
Heaton said that while the small size of IW is a problem, the economic well-being of the students is also an issue.
About 69 percent of IW students are Pell Grant eligible, a subsidy the U.S. federal government provides students who need to pay for college, while across the state only about 30 to 35 college students are Pell Grant recipients, IW President Steve Titus said in an earlier interview with The News.
“I’m proud of the path our university is on from the standpoint that we have low-income people coming into our university who are good students, proud of their institution and looking forward to a great future,” Heaton said. “I just know it’s hard to find students with the financial means to pay $40,000 a year for a college education.”