In Request For State Money, Wesley Tells Delaware it Seeks Poten - WBOC-TV 16, Delmarvas News Leader, FOX 21 -

In Request For State Money, Wesley Tells Delaware it Seeks Potential Merger With Other Institution

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Wesley College in Dover (Photo: WBOC) Wesley College in Dover (Photo: WBOC)

DOVER, Del.- The president of Wesley College last month told state officials the school is not only trying to steady itself amid financial difficulties—but also potentially through a merger.

Wesley College President Robert Clark wrote in a Nov. 27 letter requesting $3.2 million from the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Committee that the private liberal arts college was making "great progress in identifying a path forward for a potential merger by signing agreements with two financially strong high quality institutions of higher learning."

"A merger with either institution would provide expanded education opportunities to our state & region, especially in the areas of Healthcare, Education, and STEM," he said.

Neither of the institutions is named in the letter, which was obtained by WBOC through the Freedom of Information Act. The document was significantly redacted to obscure partial and complete sentences as well as Wesley's cash projections for Fiscal Year 2020.

Officials at Wesley have acknowledged the school is struggling with financial concerns that stem from declining enrollment—an issue faced at many similarly-sized colleges across the country.

The letter said Wesley is seeking the money to continue enrollment and retention initiatives but also maintain a cash balance necessary to ensure the college retains the proper bank account balance needed to continue to access federal aid money from the U.S. Department of Education.

Wesley College in September was placed on the federal government's Heightened Cash Monitoring list, meaning the school is subject to increased scrutiny over its finances. 

"Additionally, the funds will provide a bridge that affords Wesley College the time to complete a definitive agreement with the partner that will provide the best long term solution for the College's sustain ability and growth in service to the State," he wrote.

It's unclear which schools Wesley may be negotiating a possible merger.

Clark acknowledged in an October interview with WBOC that Wesley had signed an agreement with Rowan University in New Jersey that would create a pathway for qualified undergraduate students from Wesley to pursue a graduate program related to engineering at Rowan.

Early this month, Clark said Wesley was working toward or finalizing partnerships with two other institutions but said he could not disclose their names due to non-disclosure agreements.

Clark on Wednesday re-iterated that point in a prepared statement.

"I can say, that discussions are moving forward in a positive manner.  When the time is right we will disclose the name of our potential future partner, but now would not be appropriate and could potentially have a negative impact on our negotiations if the identity of the potential partner is prematurely released," he said.

Spokespersons from both the University of Delaware and Delaware State University said neither of the two institutions was involved in any talks about a potential merger.

Wesley College's request for state money follows a previous request to the same higher education committee for $2.2 million. The school received $2 million.

The school was also granted the ability by state lawmakers to use more than $1 million set aside to fund renovations at the Old Dover Library, which Wesley has said it intends to use as a potential new home for its Occupational Therapy program.

Wesley College obtained that property from Dover for $1 in a deal predicated on pledges of more than $1 million from state lawmakers of funding for transportation needs.

Lawmakers this year allowed Wesley and other private institutions to apply for funds from the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Committee.

Several other schools have applied for funding from the investment fund, from which Wesley has already tapped for $2 million.

Clark told the committee if Wesley, which has said it has more than 1,000 enrolled students and a "fluid enrollment base of more than 300 employees," receives its latest request, then state officials should not expect another one during the current budget year.

"To show good faith and validate the State's investment by showing continued tangible progress in our various initiatives, we will not ask for the additionally needed funds—barring an unforeseen issue—during the remainder of the fiscal year."

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