Donations keep Iowa Wesleyan open as partners sought
- Iowa Wesleyan University said it will remain open following a Board of Trustees vote to determine the college's future. The announcement comes about two weeks after its president said it was in danger of closing due to financial difficulties.
- The small, private liberal arts university is able to stay afloat after receiving donations from alumni and the community, the Des Moines Register reported. A professor at the university donated $500,000 and a local chamber of commerce donated $120,000 toward the $2.1 million the college said it needed to stay open for the spring 2019 semester.
- To help secure the financial future of the college, which has been struggling for at least the past five years, the board launched a team to seek out partnerships. Although the college has doubled its enrollment in the past five years to about 570 students, the figure is roughly one-third of what is was in 2008.
Iowa Wesleyan isn't the only small private college in the area that's fought to stay open — some unsuccessfully. In Des Moines, the Iowa Center for Higher Education will close in December after a failed venture as an arm of the University of Iowa. The center was opened on the campus of the former AIB College of Business acquired by the university in 2015.
Instead, Iowa Wesleyan may follow a similar pathway taken by Sweet Briar College and Antioch College, both of which were rescued by donors after it appeared they may permanently close due to financial difficulties. However, it remains to be seen if Iowa Wesleyan can achieve a sustainable financial model.
Small colleges face unique headwinds that make it more difficult to endure enrollment declines. For one, a larger share of their revenue often comes from tuition than at bigger universities. In addition, these institutions often don't have the same hefty endowments that larger universities have to lean on to make up for lost revenue.
Because the pool of high-school graduates is shrinking, many colleges and universities have turned to expanding their online offerings to tap into a larger audience. This could help small colleges remain competitive and stem revenue losses, though setting up online programs has its own set of challenges such as upfront costs and resistance from faculty.
Maryville University, for example, is working with Pearson to grow its online footprint. The small private college in Missouri hopes to double its number of online students, which currently hovers around 4,000, through 10 new undergraduate degrees. However, one expert told Inside Higher Ed it faces a crowded market. And in Pennsylvania, Muhlenberg College said it was able to move some of its instruction online while maintaining its liberal arts focus.
Other colleges are looking online as a way to come back from extinction. Such is the case with Knoxville College, a small historically black college in eastern Tennessee, which is reopening online after closing its doors in 2015. It hopes to eventually reopen for on-campus classes.
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