Amid the chaos of budget concerns, waning collegiate prospects in the region and a pandemic that’s drastically altered higher education, Iowa Wesleyan University on Tuesday announced a long-sought partnership to secure its survival.
Iowa Wesleyan and Southeastern Community College agreed to form a “Southeast Iowa Higher Education Alliance” allowing both campuses to keep operating separately while offering “smooth, affordable academic pathways between IW and SCC,” according to an announcement.
“Through this model, a student could take college-level courses in high school and go on to complete an associate’s, bachelor’s, and master’s degree all within the SIHEA system,” according to Iowa Wesleyan in Mount Pleasant, one of Iowa’s oldest higher education institutions.
In a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Southeastern Community College President Michael Ash explained how it will work: High school students will be able to take college-level courses through the program, then head to Southeastern Community College to work toward a two-year degree. Students who complete their schooling there will receive a scholarship to attend Iowa Wesleyan University.
Iowa Wesleyan, founded in 1842, is a four-year private liberal arts university featuring degrees in fields like education, criminal justice, music, nursing, psychology, business and prelaw.
It nearly closed two years ago when its then-president in fall 2018 said the campus needed $2.1 million just to stay open for the spring semester.
With help from the local U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development office — which in 2016 loaned Wesleyan $21.4 million with a 40-year term — current Wesleyan President Chris Plunkett said her institution amassed enough of a runway to investigate potential partnerships and now launch one.
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“Colleges and universities nationwide are struggling with decreased enrollment, skyrocketing costs and potential closures,” she said. “Collectively, Iowa Wesleyan University and Southeastern Community College are coming together from a position of strength, and this partnership will secure and protect our bright future and the future of our students.”
Southeastern Community College has campuses in West Burlington and Keokuk and centers in Mount Pleasant and Fort Madison.
Leaders of the two schools said they envision their collaboration as serving as an “innovative model for the future of higher education.”
Wesleyan had been close to partnering with a Catholic school in Florida until abandoning it a year ago after a monthslong due diligence process revealed concerns on both sides.
Saint Leo University in St. Leo, Fla., was wary of Wesleyan’s significant debt and wanted the USDA to forgive some of what Wesleyan owes — a request the USDA denied, Plunkett said.
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Brooklyn Draisey of the Southeast Iowa Union contributed.