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Iowa Wesleyan University will shut down in May after 181 years

March 29, 2023
The university, founded in 1842 by Methodist settlers in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, has been struggling financially.

Iowa Wesleyan University in Mount Pleasant will close by May 31 after years of budgetary struggles.

The Des Moines Register reports that the university, one of Iowa's oldest, decided to shut down in the face increased operating costs, changing enrollment trends, a and a significant drop in philanthropic giving.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the Board of Trustees has made the heartbreaking decision to close our beloved Iowa Wesleyan after 181 years as an educational pillar in this community,” college President Christine Plunkett said in a news release. “Our focus is now on assuring our over 850 students have a smooth transition to another educational opportunity.”

The university's physical campus will become the responsibility of the U.S. Department of Agriculture after it closes.

Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds acknowledged in a statement that Iowa Wesleyan had asked for $12 million to cover ongoing operating costs so it could continue operating, but "as I’ve said many times, we endeavor not to spend one-time federal dollars on ongoing expenses."

A review of the school's finances showed Wesleyan had $26.1 million in loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. State officials concluded that providing Iowa Wesleyan with Covid-19 relief funds would not "solve the systemic financial issues plaguing the university," Reynolds said.

Iowa Wesleyan board Chair Bob Miller said the agriculture department is the primary lender to the university, and expressed his dismay that the state won't be providing aid.

“As a higher education institution that serves rural Iowa, we are disappointed in the lack of state support for this effort," Miller said.

Miller said the university’s enrollment has increased since the Covid-19 pandemic, but not by enough to achieve financial stability.

The university has come close to closing before. In 2018, using a combination of community donations and leveraging real estate, it was able to raise $4.6 million to stay open through December 2019.

Founded by Methodist settlers in Mount Pleasant, the university predates Iowa statehood, receiving its charter from the territorial legislature in 1842. 

Plunkett said about 30% of Iowa Wesleyan’s students are from Iowa, 54% are from out-of-state and the rest are international students. She also said 65% of students receive need-based Pell grants and many are the first in their families to attend college and come from diverse backgrounds. 

The university has about 110 full-time employees--35 faculty and 75 staff. 

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