Small private school Iowa Wesleyan University, founded before the Civil War, announced its plans to close at the conclusion of the academic year on Tuesday.
The board of trustees unanimously voted to shut the school down despite growing enrollment post-pandemic, thanks in part to a partnership with a local community college. Its comeback, however, could not exceed its swollen financial burdens due partly to inflation, according to Iowa Wesleyan University’s website. The school closure announcement specifically called out Governor Kim Reynolds for denying the school a $12 million request in American Resue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to help stabilize the school’s debt as it recouped its pandemic losses and a “significant drop” in philanthropic giving, according to The Gazette. Reynolds, however, argued that her office didn’t get the request until it was too late.
“All our indicators have been trending in a positive direction, but we needed funding to buy some additional time,” said Robert Miller, Wesleyan board chair to The Gazette. “We are just heartbroken.”
Formerly known as Mount Pleasant Collegiate Institute, the school was established in 1842—181 years ago—before Iowa had achieved statehood. The school has produced notable alumnae, dating back to suffragist Arabella Mansfield, the country’s first female lawyer. A more recent alumna is Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station.
The school faced a potential closure in 2018, but it was saved by fundraising and a $26.1 million loan from the Department of Agriculture. Now that the school is shutting its doors, the department will take ownership of the campus on May 31 since Wesleyan offered its campus as collateral on the loan.
School closure trends
Iowa Wesleyan had under 1,000 enrolled students, making it the most recent small private school to fall. However, The Gazette noted how the region’s other small private schools are struggling, too. Data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center shows that while enrollment across the nation has taken a hit for at least the past five years, the Midwest and Northeast are experiencing it the hardest, and this is largely due to demographic changes. For example, Finlandia University in Michigan failed due to a smaller pool of high schoolers in the area.