News that Dover’s Wesley College is seeking another $3.2 million is setting off alarm bells.
The college earlier received $2 million from the General Assembly at a time when public colleges and universities struggle with aging buildings and high maintenance costs.
Supporters argue that Wesley has a high percentage of in-state students and pours tens of millions of dollars into the Kent County economy.
Still, it seems curious for the state to hand over millions of dollars without more public clarity on the financial situation facing the college.
Wesley President Robert Clark II has been dealing with serious challenges since he took over in 2015.
A former commandant at the U.S. Naval Academy, Clark’s career includes a post at Penn State University and command of a submarine squadron. That resume inspires confidence, but the available numbers point to a steep climb.
Contributing to Wesley’s problems are demographic trends that include a smaller pool of students.
It does not help that the college has a low graduation rate.
The financial situation at Wesley remains unclear at best. Whetstone, the student newspaper at Wesley, carried student editorial with the headline “We’re running out time. “
We do know that Wesley’s endowment amounts to a paltry $6.6 million, leaving it little breathing room. By contrast, Goldey-Beacom College in Pike Creek has a $97 million endowment with the average among small colleges running above $20 million.
The most recent nonprofit report filed with the IRS a couple of years ago shows the college’s expenses running more than half a million dollars ahead of revenue.
Education is a competitive business. Is it possible that time is running out for a college with a history intertwined with Dover?
With an endowment of $1.4 billion, the University of Delaware sounds like a plausible partner. Rumors to that effect have surfaced and Clark has talked about alliances and partnerships.
Then again, UD has its own priorities in securing its place as a nationally-ranked university.
Let’s hope that if Wesley’s funding request makes its way to the floor of the General Assembly, we see an honest discussion on the merits of supporting a college whose future is unclear and some numbers.
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