Program cuts, layoffs coming to Iowa Wesleyan

Restructuring is due to low enrollment and financial struggles, officials say

An historic four-year liberal arts college in southeast Iowa has announced a major restructure that will reorganize personnel and departments, close about half of the academic programs and layoff dozens of faculty and staff.

Officials from Iowa Wesleyan College, which is located in Mount Pleasant and was founded in 1842, say the restructuring is due to low enrollment and financial struggles, a scenario being seen at many private colleges. While changes weren't unexpected, the mood on campus was grim.

"I feel now as if I bumped my shin bone against a hard side and I am waiting for the pain to subside," said Bitrus Gwamna, a professor in communications, which is one of the programs designated for closure. "I would say that is how many on campus are feeling."

The restructure will close 16 of 32 major programs including studio art, sociology, history, pre-law studies, philosophy of religion, communication and mass communication, forensic science, general studies/liberal studies and seven teacher education endorsement areas, according to a statement from the college.

As part of the changes, 22 of 52 professors and 23 of 78 staff members will be laid off. The professors will work on a one-year contract until January 2015, per their contract. Staff will be let go between the end of January and the end of this semester, college President Steve Titus said.

The program cuts affect about 50  students. Those currently enrolled will be allowed finish out their studies. It will impact incoming students for the fall semester. Iowa Wesleyan has approximately 600 full-time and part-time

The school's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the changes earlier this week, and the planning had been going on since the fall, school Titus said.

The changes will allow Iowa Wesleyan to "generate future growth and achieve fiscal sustainability" and will save nearly $3 million annually, according to a statement released on Wednesday.

“The changes we are making at Iowa Wesleyan College will focus our academic program on areas of strength and streamline our operations to achieve growth and fiscal sustainability," Titus, who was elected as college president in September, said in the statement. "The academic program restructuring is designed to be more focused in our offerings and better meet the demands of today’s students."

He said the school will focus academically on business, education and nursing; having a more regional footprint and recruiting a wider variety of student-types, such as older students.

Ken Redd, director of research and policy analysis for National Association of College and University Business Officers in Washington D.C., said private colleges around the country have been restructuring to different degrees due to financial challenges, particularly declines in net income.

"Demographically, there's been a downturn in new high school graduates, and fewer people going to school than two or three years ago," Redd said. "A lot of schools struggle with this."

A report by Bain and Co. says a third of all colleges and universities have financial statements significantly worse than before the recession.

Iowa Wesleyan's most recent 990 tax filing shows that tuition revenue was up slightly in 2012 and revenues exceeded expenses by about $1.4 million. The previous year the school had a $574,285 shortfall, and the filing also shows the school took out a $1.5 million loan from Two Rivers Bank and Trust.

Titus said he could not comment in detail on the school's finances, but did say enrollment has been on the decline for five years.

Jamarco R. Clark, student government president, said he supports the changes at his school.

"While it's unfortunate that we have to go through this tough time, I have a countless amount of faith in our school administration," Clark said in an email. "Down the road we will look back at this tough time and see it as a very positive and pivotal move for Iowa Wesleyan. I love my college and it's administration under the leadership of Dr. Titus."

Ann Klingensmith, professor of art and chair of faculty, who helped approve the restructuring as a member of the Board of Trustees, said that some faculty are likely to be upset that they didn't get more say in the plan, but the restructure is within Titus' purview per the college handbook.

Titus disagreed with that assessment saying several faculty groups made the recommendations that he ultimately brought to the Trustees.

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