Three years in the past, Iowa Wesleyan College was on the point of closing its doorways for good. The faculty, which was based in 1842 and is affiliated with the United Methodist Church, was struggling to beat a set of issues endemic to different small liberal arts colleges.
Although the varsity’s enrollment of 616 college students within the fall of 2018 was secure with the prior yr’s quantity, it nonetheless had practically 230 fewer college students than a decade prior. Some fundraising income by no means materialized, its then-president stated in November 2018, leaving the varsity with out sufficient in its coffers to stay open with out new funding sources.
It is a acquainted story. About six dozen nonprofit schools have both closed or merged with different establishments since 2016, in keeping with a Larger Ed Dive evaluation. Lots of them stated flagging enrollment and climbing tuition low cost charges put them underneath monetary duress.
However regardless of Iowa Wesleyan’s dire warnings about its future, the varsity managed to resist these pressures. It went on a fundraising spree and restructured a $20 million federal mortgage, in keeping with a latest report from the TIAA Institute. The college’s management workforce can be hopeful that a number of latest modifications — together with focusing extra on retention, strengthening pupil companies and partnering with a close-by group faculty — will change the establishment’s prospects.
It is likely to be too quickly to know the way a lot the modifications will strengthen Iowa Wesleyan over the long run. Nonetheless, early enhancements point out its methods could also be value contemplating for confused schools throughout the U.S.
“There aren’t many faculties which might be prepared to do the exhausting work, and they seem like doing the exhausting work,” stated Jim Hundrieser, vp for consulting and enterprise improvement on the Nationwide Affiliation of Faculty and College Enterprise Officers. “Hopefully they are going to be very profitable and transfer from simply surviving to thriving.”
Turning into a ‘student-ready’ college
The cornerstone of Iowa Wesleyan’s plan is easy. Officers determined to concentrate on retaining the learners they already had quite than chasing after those that are academically achieved and rich. That meant devoting extra assets to college students from deprived backgrounds.
“We have to cease saying we have to search for higher college students,” stated Iowa Wesleyan President Christine Plunkett, who took the helm of the college in August 2019.
The establishment employed a number of pupil success coaches, who check in often with college students to assist them with obstacles that would derail their training. Iowa Wesleyan has additionally constructed up a pupil success heart, which homes the coaches and different companies akin to peer tutoring and writing assist.
“You do not usher in college students for them to not succeed and to depart them with debt.”
W. Joseph King
Co-author, “The way to Run a Faculty”
Specializing in retention is an effective technique, stated W. Joseph King, co-author of “The way to Run a Faculty” and president of Lyon Faculty. He famous it is cheaper to maintain a pupil than it’s to recruit a brand new one. Extra importantly, he added, it helps the school fulfill its objective. To Plunkett, the college discovered its “candy spot” by catering to underserved college students. Roughly half of the college’s college students are first-generation and half are non-White, officers stated.
“You do not usher in college students for them to not succeed and to depart them with debt,” King stated. “That is not the best situation.”
Iowa Wesleyan’s efforts seem like paying off. The faculty’s first-year retention charge rose from 48% to 63% in simply 5 years, in keeping with the TIAA report.
Nonetheless, Iowa Wesleyan is not out of sizzling water but. Within the 2020 fiscal yr, the college posted a $4.1 million loss, up from $2.5 million the yr earlier than as bills elevated, in keeping with tax paperwork. It marked the eighth-straight yr that the varsity’s bills exceeded its income.
However officers anticipate to buck that pattern within the upcoming tutorial yr. They’re additionally seeing indicators of a powerful pupil headcount within the fall.
Rising the coed pipeline
Iowa Wesleyan is widening its funnel of scholars with athletics and admissions modifications. The college switched this month from the NCAA’s Division III convention to the Nationwide Affiliation of Intercollegiate Athletics, which caters to small schools.
The transfer will enable the college to renew providing athletic scholarships, which might be key to serving to small colleges recruit college students. It is also a homecoming. Iowa Wesleyan left the NAIA after the 2011-2012 season to affix the NCAA.
On reflection, the unique swap was ill-advised due to the lack of sports activities scholarships, college officers stated. Enrollment plunged by practically 100 college students to 651 college students the autumn after the change, although it had been steadily sliding since a minimum of 2008, in keeping with federal knowledge.
Though switching athletic associations would not all the time assure a rise in college students, NACUBO’s Hundrieser stated it was a “sensible transfer” for Iowa Wesleyan given its location. The NAIA has a heavy presence within the Midwest, Hundrieser stated, which may decrease journey prices and create extra aggressive alternatives.
“We have to cease saying we have to search for higher college students.”
President, Iowa Wesleyan
After failed merger talks with one other liberal arts faculty, Iowa Wesleyan additionally lately partnered with neighboring Southeastern Group Faculty. The duo are hoping that they will develop enrollment at their establishments in addition to bolster the regional economic system by working collectively, Plunkett stated.
To kind the partnership, the college and group faculty created a separate nonprofit known as the Southeast Iowa Larger Schooling Alliance. Iowa Wesleyan is funding the executive prices, whereas Southeastern Group Faculty will award scholarships to some college students who switch from the two-year faculty, Inside Larger Ed reported earlier this yr.
The partnership can also yield some cost-savings by shared personnel and the flexibility to barter contracts collectively.
It is not the primary public-private partnership within the state involving a liberal arts faculty and a group faculty. Final yr, Clarke College introduced it had joined forces with all 15 of Iowa’s group schools to create switch pathways.
Thom Chesney, president of Clarke, stated it may be troublesome for universities and two-year colleges to hammer out particulars of such a deal. However as soon as it is shaped, it could possibly assist the college associate plot out future enrollment.
“They will be that and say, ‘We should always virtually be capable to rely on X variety of college students being switch college students by this settlement,'” Chesney stated.
It additionally diversifies the college’s enrollment sources, a feat different schools are hoping to attain, he stated. “How can we diversify the sorts of college students who’re coming to us,” he added, “in order that demographic cliffs and issues like which might be softened?