Iowa Wesleyan University has sent out requests for proposals to 242 other universities and organizations in the interest of partnering with them for an alternative future.
At a “town hall meeting” on Wednesday, Jan. 9, university officials presented the community with an update to their financial situation after announcing in November 2018 that they needed $2.1 million for a spring 2019 semester and $4.6 million to stay open through December 2019. At a news conference on Nov. 15, 2018, university officials announced that they would remain open and created a “New Directions Team” that would pursue partnerships to create a sustainable future for the university.
The alternative futures project is being overseen by the New Directions Team, chaired by board of trustee member Bob Miller.
The New Directions Team sent out RFP’s to facilities, organizations and institutions that they feel would have an interest in helping and working with IW, Miller said.
“We’ve identified several important key factors we’re interested in as we look for partners,” Miller said. “We’re not just out there shopping. We want to make sure we pick the right organization to work with us and Iowa Wesleyan.”
RFP’s were released on Dec. 12, 2018, to 242 organizations. IW President Steve Titus said there are 27 “expressions of interest” and at least six to seven proposals that will come in, including “foreign interest.”
The university hopes to collect all alternative futures project proposals by Jan. 22 and review them from Jan. 23 to Feb. 1. The decision and announcement of one to three finalists will be made between Feb. 4 and 7. The university would like to visit the finalists at their campuses, hopefully have them visit IW, and review their thoughts and ideas of what a partnership would be, Miller said.
“That’s what we’re really looking for at this time is a partnership that will secure the future of Iowa Wesleyan University,” Miller said.
The New Directions Team hopes to secure and implement the new partnership in March. Miller said any partner or partners the New Directions Team selects out of the RFP process will go back to the board of trustees for a final decision.
Miller said the New Directions Team will have to keep organizations submitting RFPs confidential to “respect” them until IW is able to announce the finalists. Miller said they continue to be as transparent as possible with the community, faculty, staff and students.
“There are many potential models this partnership could take on. We’ve not identified any particular one. We’re open to any and all ideas at this time as long as it meets the mission of Iowa Wesleyan,” Miller said.
Potential options or models for partnerships include private-public institutional partnerships; a shared services agreement; a merger or acquisition; or multi-institutional co-branding.
The RFPs have been clear about partnering with IW is partnering with the community and the region, Titus said.
“This is about how do we preserve a local economy. Whatever partner we come together with has got to have that same commitment,” Titus said.
IW has a $55 million a year economic impact on the southeast Iowa region. Titus said he would like to see that grow to $100 million.
“I would like us as an institution to get to the point where we stop talking about closing it and start talking about how dynamic and thriving it is,” Titus said.
Titus said the board of trustees began talking about pursuing a partnership in May 2017 and had a campaign in place.
“I wish we would have started this a year ago,” Titus said. “We didn’t based on the information we had at the time. The runway feels a little skinny right now, but I’m encouraged by the response.”
Since 2017, 150 colleges and universities that have engaged in some partnership, Titus said. He said this is an exciting time of opportunity for IW, and he has already had conversations with several institutions looking to partner with an institution like IW.
“We have a really attractive opportunity for a partner,” Titus said. “We are strong operationally. It’s about finding someone who can give us a cash infusion.”
The university is working with Registry Advisory Services in their search for a partner, a consulting organization for boards, presidents and administrators of higher learning institutions. They have advised the board to “be surprised in terms of creativity” of what partnership could look like, Titus said.
“People will ask, ‘Steve, what do you mean by partnerships?’ And the honest response is I’m really not sure,” Titus said. “I want to partner with someone with strength.”
Titus said a big hit for the university was when a partner they hired to “scale up” the online program went out of business in May 2017. That was a $2 million revenue hit for IW, which is 10 percent of their $23 million a year enterprise, Titus said.
IW’s next partner needs to be able to help them with digital marketing to increase enrollment in their online programs, Titus said.
“You’re talking millions of dollars. Our total marketing (budget) here at the university is probably $300,000 for everything we do.” Titus said.
Titus said that IW’s current online program is put together and a strength for a new partner coming in.
“They’re going to have to do very little except infuse the digital marketing to get it to a regional-national level,” Titus said. “We’re not talking about turning this university into an online university. Our residential component and on-campus component is the heart and soul of this institution and it will remain the heart and soul.”
Titus said the university is on a “trajectory” to get over 1,000 students on campus.
IW’s dining hall and residence halls are inadequate in terms of capacity and amenities for 1,000 students, but the board of trustees will tackle that issue once the partnership agreement is finalized, Titus said.
Student enrollment for spring 2019 semester has seen a little bit of a dip, Titus said. Typically, 98 percent of students preregister for spring semester at the end of the previous fall semester. Before the holiday break, 89 percent of students had registered for the spring semester.
IW provost Dr. DeWayne Frazier said that even in the past week, more students had registered.
“We’re looking a lot better than what we originally thought as far as registering,” Frazier said.
Students return to campus on Jan. 14. Classes begin Jan. 15.
“The big conversation I had with a lot of people (in November) was what will the community do,” said Dave Adams, Mt. Pleasant resident and student at IW. “Is the community going to stand up and really partner or is the community not? And that has been so inspiring. The things that have happened here with the branding and the growing enrollment, it’s all been very encouraging. Even though it’s a cash problem, I have really liked the momentum, so thank all of you for that.”