MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa — A day after Iowa Wesleyan University announced it would close its doors, students are left to figure out where they'll finish their degrees.
The university, which has been educating students for 181 years, will close on May 31 at the end of the academic year, citing increased operating costs due to inflation, changing enrollment trends, a "significant drop" in philanthropic giving and the "rejection of a proposal for federal COVID funding by Governor Reynolds."
There are currently 878 students enrolled at the school.
Students said they received an email Tuesday morning saying there would be a mandatory meeting.
"They kind of just announced it to us that the school was going to close down," said sophomore Marcus Christion. "We kind of had a feeling because it said the Board of Trustees was going to be there, so there's not really a lot of other things you can expect when that's involved."
"There were a lot that were just kind of taken aback, wasn't really sure how to feel in the moment," said graduating senior Kai Wheeler. "A lot of people just kind of broke down for a minute trying to regain our thoughts, things like that. But there was also a lot of support from the professors and from other students and from leadership around campus, which felt really nice to have them all there."
While the university is closing, it's not the first time closure was discussed because of financial reasons. Back in 2018, the university announced it was at risk of closing. Iowa Wesleyan ultimately remained open after raising $2 million from alumni, friends and the community.
Christion plays on the football team and has a scholarship.
"It's really stressful because it was such short notice and it's not a lot of time to do full recruiting and talk to coaches and do all this while also still going to school," he said. "It's just really difficult with that in the back of your head that your school is closing. It's just a lot of stress and there's emotions attached to it."
There are four teach-out agreements with William Penn, Upper Iowa, University of Dubuque and Culver-Stockton College for students to complete their degrees. More agreements may be added. Because of this, North Ballangkain, who has one semester left after this year, isn't worried, even though he was shocked by the news.
"I have to go to my next journey," Ballangkain said. "It's not that stressful because they have some contact with another university for me to go there and they have to take care of the students."
Incoming students are being impacted too. Grace Litwiller had just received her acceptance letter within the last two weeks.
"Even if this was something in the works, they should have been, like, 'We're not accepting applications until we know what's going on,'" Litwiller said.
She currently works as a Licensed Practical Nurse and wanted to go back to her school for her Bachelor's degree in nursing. The Iowa Wesleyan University program appealed to her because it's an hour away from where she works, and she could get her BSN in two years, whereas in other programs, she'd have to do a year-long Registered Nurse program before going on to get her BSN.
"I'm super frustrated, really disheartening," Litwiller said. "I went through, probably like, every stage of grief. It's something silly, but nursing school is a big, like, it's hard. It's a big deal when you get accepted into a program and stuff and then to be like, 'Oh, you're accepted, but we're not going to continue with this school,' it's sad. It's really sad. And it's really frustrating because it was a lot of work and a lot of time."
She said she'll start looking for new nursing programs to apply to, but she's not sure how many are still accepting applications because many closed last month. She may have to delay going back to school for a year.
For current students like Christion, the university closing isn't just about the stress of finding a new school.
"This college is great and I like it here, but I definitely made a lot of memories and a lot of friends here that I'm definitely going to miss," he said. "It's going to be difficult."
Meanwhile, Wheeler is disappointed that she won't get to come back and visit as an alumna.
"Music and performing and coming back and seeing those performances," she said. "A lot of the things I've got to see other alumni come back and do and just how excited everybody gets to be back on campus."
The university had submitted a proposal for $12 million from the federal American Rescue Plan Act funds that were given to the state. However, it was denied.
On June 1, the campus will become the responsibility of the United States Department of Agriculture.
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