Delaware State University (DSU) will officially acquire struggling Wesley College after talks had been ongoing since March.
The agreement states the acquisition will take place no later than June 30, 2021.
Delaware State University President Dr. Tony Allen commented on what the two schools have in common.
"Wesley shares a very similar student demographic to ours, and a very similar mission in providing greater educational access," he said.
Allen said he's frequently asked "why now" and wanted to address that notion:
"In the middle of a global pandemic, and all its inherent uncertainties and our growing unrest with respect to civil rights, and social justice, and systemic racism in America, there was a case to be made that a university like Delaware State University should be focusing on other things," he said. "I would argue--that's precisely what we are doing. We are focusing on being bigger, broader, and unapologetically historically black college or university in the country."
In a letter to the school community, obtained by WDEL, Wesley College President Robert E. Clark II said:
"This agreement ensures the real potential, if fully executed, for us collectively to be able to continue to provide the life-changing educational instruction to the students we serve, while also ensuring as best as possible a secure future for the many dedicated faculty and staff who have provided this oasis of educational transformation for so many years."
The deal is being called an "unprecedented" because a historically black institution has never before acquired a non-historically black college or university (HBCU).
Wesley, a small, private liberal arts college in downtown Dover had been facing financial pressures due to waning enrollment, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic. President Clark noted they'd been looking for a "partner" for two-and-a-half years.
"When we started the search over two years ago for the right partner, I had mentioned many times that mergers/acquisitions/consortiums would be the norm in the future of higher education, just as it has become for other service-oriented professions like Health Care. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic the future was forced upon higher education, and many small and medium size independent institutions are scrambling to find partnerships and a way to survive. We are fortunate to have already been well into this journey before our collective world was turned upside down by the unprecedented economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic," Clark wrote in a letter to students.
"That's what you're seeing in health care, there's a consolidation there, again to provide more opportunities for more people. This was not undertaken in terms of how I can make one entity better than the other; this was undertaken to how can we provide more opportunities for our future, and that future is the young men and women we serve," said Clark at a news conference.
Delaware State University said the acquisition fits with the HBCU's strategic plan for a greater presence in downtown Dover.
"Being this downtown campus for Del State University--that may speak to the young man or young woman who's looking for maybe a smaller setting and not necessarily the main campus, but at the end of the day still falls under the Del State/Wesley College umbrella," said Clark.
Officials noted by acquiring Wesley they can add to an array of academic offerings and enhanced facilities on both campuses. Clark echoed those comments in a virtual call with reporters.
"Quite frankly for Wesley, we needed that change--we have great programs...in terms of health care, masters in occupational therapy. A good portion of our population are student athletes; we have national champion-caliber teams that compete for that every year, so those young men and women who might not necessarily have the means or quite frankly the desire to go to a larger campus, can come to this small intimate campus and still provide life-changing opportunities for them," he said.
In order for the deal to take place, DSU must obtain sufficient private or government funds, outside of its operating budget. Wesley had already received $3 million from the state to stay afloat during precarious financial times. Allen said he doesn't anticipate state funding being a part of this equation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Our interests lie with the congressional delegations, specifically, and also private funders that we believe will have a significant interest eyeing the effort over time," said Allen. "So it is not our expectation that we would go back to the state in these initial years."
Clark told the campus community he remains "cautiously optimistic."
"I...will continue to do everything possible to ensure with any eventuality that we will be able to continue the Wesley legacy of providing life-changing educational opportunities to the students we serve, while also protecting the salary and benefits of our faculty and staff for as long as possible moving forward, as we all continue to deal with the uncertainty resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic," he wrote.
This academic year, students, faculty and staff shouldn't expect to see many changes in either academics or athletics. Both athletic programs will continue to run independently for now. Delaware State remains a Division I school in the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference while Wesley stays as a Division III school in the Atlantic East and New Jersey Athletic conferences
"We're going through discussions with Wesley College throughout the year on that aspect we see both really opportunities and some challenges that we'll need to get through that may bode well for both institutions in that regard, but we have not made any final decisions," said Allen.
The deal also must still be approved by the U.S. Department of Education and the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.
Here's Clark's full letter to the campus community:
This story will be updated.