Iowa Wesleyan closing part of national trend

Many rural, private institutions suffering following post pandemic era
Published: Mar. 29, 2023 at 5:44 PM CDT
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MT. PLEASANT, Iowa (KWQC) - Iowa Wesleyan announced it’s closing it’s doors at the end of the current semester citing lack of funding, lower enrollment, and the denial of COVID relief funds. All three of those issues are a part of a larger, national trend among colleges and universities across the country, especially in smaller, rural communities.

Rachel Burns is a senior policy analyst for the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association who studies these trends among higher education institutions.

“I would say it’s generally those tends to be like the regional, like, we call them like they are, they are nonprofit institutions, but they’re not very large,” Burns said. “They often serve like a very local community. Those are the ones that I think have been struggling the most in the past couple of years.”

Burns says that institutions such as Iowa Wesleyan that know they’re going to close their doors typically follow one of two paths.

“There’s one that we call orderly, and there’s one that we call abrupt and that abrupt one tends to be much more damaging to students. It sounds to me like Iowa Wesleyan is kind of somewhere in between, they kind of knew this was coming, but they didn’t warn students maybe quite as quickly as they should have,” Burns said.

When institutions close abruptly, they typically don’t have a plan for students or faculty, but Burns praised Iowa Wesleyan for making sure students are taken care of. They’ve set up four teach-out plans with William Penn, University of Dubuque, Culver-Stockton College, and Upper Iowa University to allow students to transfer credits and finish their degrees.

St. Ambrose University also stating they’ve been in contact with students and faculty to ensure that if students want to finish their degrees at St. Ambrose, they would work to make that happen. St. Ambrose released the following statement on Wednesday.

The closure of Iowa Wesleyan is not good news for Iowa or higher education, generally. Schools like Iowa Wesleyan are often the lifeblood of a community and act as labor force incubators for rural America. St. Ambrose is of course deeply concerned about the students impacted by this decision and we have reached out to ensure students who desire to enroll at St. Ambrose would be welcomed into our community and assured that they can complete their degrees in a timely manner. We want to do all we can to ensure students who desire to complete their degree can achieve that goal.

St. Ambrose differs from a place like Iowa Wesleyan in that our endowment exceeds $200M, our enrollment has been consistently above 2500, we have a A- bond rating with a stable outlook, and we have had 25+ years of income from operations (black budgets). These sustainable financial metrics ensure we are less vulnerable to enrollment declines and more capable of investing in new programs that rely less on the traditional student market, which is vulnerable to the current demographic decline of traditional age students.

Our enrollment strategy extends beyond the traditional, undergraduate student. We have grown our graduate health and business programs, expanded into workforce development certificates, and the addition of our recent online LPN-BS in nursing targeted at working adults provide evidence of strategies to meet the needs of many different types of learners.

Amy Novak, President of St. Ambrose