Delaware State University System Acquisition
By Nate Delesline III
Published on August 10, 2021
Delaware State University made history on July 1 by acquiring Wesley College. DSU officials said the move marks the first time a historically Black college or university acquired another higher education institution.
Under the agreement, Wesley College became DSU's Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Tony Allen, DSU's president, continues to lead the school. Wesley's president emeritus, Robert Clark II, stepped down.
The school acquisition gives DSU 21 buildings on Wesley's former 50-acre campus in downtown Dover. In a statement announcing the acquisition's finalization, DSU said it will also add more than 60% of Wesley's faculty and staff members. Seventy-seven percent of Wesley students chose to continue their education at DSU.
Located about 2 miles away from Wesley, DSU's 356-acre main campus with 50 buildings is next to the region's main highway. The university also has satellite campuses in Georgetown and Delaware's largest city, Wilmington.
"We have not found any evidence of another HBCU actually acquiring another institution of higher education," DSU spokesman Carlos Holmes told Affordable Colleges Online. "There have been mergers, but that's different. This was an acquisition," Holmes said. "It is an honor to be the first HBCU to acquire another institution of higher education."
In the immediate future, Holmes said DSU needs to decide how best to use some of the infrastructure on the downtown campus. "But in terms of the actual acquisition itself, the acquisition is finalized," he said.
In addition, Delaware State University gains about three dozen former Wesley faculty members. DSU offered jobs to about 80 Wesley employees. Sixty-eight employees accepted. Overall, Holmes said DSU will have about 265 full-time equivalent faculty members after the acquisition. That includes 35 former Wesley faculty.
DSU's acquisition of Wesley College "appears to offer great promise as a model that will well serve the residents of Delaware and students from around the globe," Lezli Baskerville, CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, said in an interview with Affordable Colleges Online. The organization represents the leadership of HBCUs. It also advocates for policies that will sustain and enhance historically Black schools.
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"I am excited about the acquisition. I anticipate even greater things from Delaware State and more opportunities for the residents of Delaware and students from around the globe, resulting from the acquisition. I am hoping that its acquisition will do for it what some HBCU mergers have done to move other HBCUs to a higher level of excellence and to enable them to serve more students and communities."
–Lezli Baskerville, CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education
Delaware State University HistoryDSU dates to 1891. The Delaware General Assembly established the school under the federal Morrill Act of 1890. This legislation supported the opening of colleges for Black students in states with segregated public education systems. The school's inaugural appointed six-member board of trustees initially received $8,000 in state funding.
To avoid confusion with a different in-state school — now known as the University of Delaware — the state legislature named the school in Dover the Delaware State College for Colored Students in 1893. In 1947, the school became Delaware State College. In 1993, the name changed again to Delaware State University.
Eighty-three percent of DSU's students attend full time. Fifty-three percent of students live on campus and 44% come from out of state. The most popular academic majors include criminal justice, mass communications, social work, and agriculture. DSU also has an undergraduate program in aviation. About 300 student-athletes compete in NCAA Division I sports.
Wesley College History
Wesley College opened in 1873 as the Wilmington Conference Academy. The Wilmington Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church supported the new school, which began as a boys-only academy. The school accepted girls as day students the next year.
Despite financial difficulties, the school stayed open and grew during the next several decades. In 1918, the Rev. Dr. Henry Budd led the transition from an academy to a junior college. The school raised $260,000 from Methodists in the region to support the Wesley Collegiate Institute. Unfortunately, as a result of the 1929 stock market crash, the school suspended operations. Initial efforts to reopen failed. But in 1951, the school's trustees elected Dr. J. Paul Slaybaugh president. Under his leadership, the school reopened and began growing. In 1958, the school became Wesley College.
By 2003, Wesley's enrollment reached about 2,200. But during the next decade, "Wesley began to experience financial challenges from which it never recovered." The 2020-2021 academic year marked Wesley's last as an independent entity. The school acquisition also ended Wesley's NCAA Division III athletic programs.
College Acquisition Background
Wesley's long-term financial instability played a key role in the acquisition decision. Wesley's enrollment steadily declined from a high in 2003 for nearly 15 years. As a result, the school faced financial troubles. Wesley asked the state of Delaware for help. Overall, the state gave Wesley $6 million over two years to keep the school open.
In June 2019, "the U.S. Department of Education placed the school on a monitoring list for the second time in three years because of concerns about 'financial responsibility.'" The college reallocated scholarship funding, grants, and other public money to cover operating expenses.
The state also provided money to let the school allow students to keep their federal financial aid. In October 2019, Wesley President Clark told DelawareOnline.com that Wesley was "actively seeking potential partners."
In early 2020, Wesley's student newspaper reported the college's endowment declined from $6 million to about $4 million. The decline resulted from a board of trustees' decision to shift money from the endowment fund to cover operating expenses.
Technically, DSU did not buy Wesley. Instead, Delaware State University assumed Wesley's liabilities. Recent outside financial gifts supported the transition. In late 2020, DSU received a $20 million donation from author and philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, the former spouse of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. The school said it's the largest single financial gift ever received. Part of that money will support the acquisition.
DSU also recently received a $1 million donation from the Longwood Foundation. The gift from the Longwood Foundation "will be expressly used for (the Wesley acquisition), and validates the impact the combined entity will have on the educational, cultural, and economic impact to the City of Dover, Kent County, and the state of Delaware," Allen said in a university announcement.
What This Means for Students
DSU agreed to accept all Wesley students in good academic standing. The school plans to open for the fall 2021 semester on Aug. 30. Delaware State University anticipates student enrollment of about 5,500. Allen, the university president, said he wants to grow the university's enrollment to 10,000 in the next decade.
The Wesley acquisition, Allen said, "is a jump start to that opportunity." He also said the growth via Wesley brings "students who need an open door, just need an opportunity to change their economic trajectory for themselves, their families, and their communities."
Former Wesley students will pay less for tuition at DSU. Wesley's annual cost for undergraduate tuition was $43,000. As of August 2021, DSU charges about $20,000 for out-of-state students. DSU now has more than 60 undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs.
The school continues to expand its presence in Delaware. Less than a month after the Wesley College acquisition, DSU announced that it accepted the donation of a 35,000-square-foot building in Wilmington from Capital One bank. Valued at $4.7 million, the university will house several programs in the building. The building will include a school for graduate, adult, and continuing education students. It will also house a workforce development center and a business incubator.
Some Wesley students saw the college acquisition as a positive change. But other students expressed concern as the college's final weeks of operation neared. Some worried about how or if all their academic credits would transfer. Others worried they would not develop a close relationship with teachers and fellow students at the larger school. Some students also said the closure of Wesley's Division III athletic department pressured them to transfer. Other students reported they lost scholarships.
Some Wesley faculty also disagreed with the school acquisition decision. They took their concerns to court, suing the college and former President Clark to stop the plan. Their lawsuit claims included that Wesley breached its contractual employment obligations with tenured faculty. They said the college did not notify them by March 15, 2020 that their positions would end. They also claimed that officials issued employment contracts for the next year a week after the acquisition announcement.
While DSU's acquisition of Wesley is a first, several HBCUs and minority serving institutions exist today due to mergers. Under court order, the University of Tennessee at Nashville, a branch campus of the state university system, merged with historically Black Tennessee State University in the late 1970s. Baskerville also noted that Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, Dillard University in New Orleans, Clark Atlanta University in Atlanta, and Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis still exist decades after combining operations.
"I am excited about the acquisition," Baskerville told Affordable Colleges Online. "I anticipate even greater things from Delaware State and more opportunities for the residents of Delaware and students from around the globe, resulting from the acquisition. I am hoping that its acquisition will do for it what some HBCU mergers have done to move other HBCUs to a higher level of excellence and to enable them to serve more students and communities."
Nate Delesline III
Nate Delesline III is a Virginia-based writer covering higher education. He has more than a decade of experience as a newspaper journalist covering public safety, local government, business, transportation, and K-12 and higher education.
AffordableCollegesOnline.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.
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