Delaware State Univ. to make historic acquisition of Wesley College

Delaware State, a historically Black university, has signed an agreement to take over Dover’s Wesley College, which has been struggling financially.

Delaware State University

Delaware State University's campus. (Mark Eichmann/WHYY)

Delaware State, a historically Black university, has signed an agreement to take over Dover’s financially struggling Wesley College.

Under the deal announced Thursday afternoon, Delaware State would become the first historically Black college or university (HBCU) to acquire a non-HBCU school. That’s according to former DSU president Harry Williams, who now heads up the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.

“This is an unprecedented landmark in the long history of HBCUs,” Williams said. “I am not surprised that Delaware State University is leading the way.”

There have been rumors about Wesley being acquired in recent years. In February, the school was reportedly close to merging with Florida-based, St. Leo University and there also had been talk that the University of Delaware would take over the school. Wesley has struggled to keep up enrollment, and despite being a private school, state lawmakers have given Wesley $6 million in funding over the past two years.

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The acquisition would fill DSU’s long-time need for campus presence in downtown Dover and would allow for more growth for the school that’s seen enrollment increase by 40% in the past decade. That growth has bucked the trend for HBCUs nationally. Five HBCUs have shut their doors within the last six years. And Cheyney University near Philadelphia teetered on the brink last year.

The takeover fits in with current President Tony Allen’s mission to make DSU “a substantively diverse, contemporary and unapologetically historically Black college or university.” Wesley College is classified as a minority-serving institution and 63% of its student body are students of color.

The agreement calls for the two schools to figure out a path forward for an official takeover by June 2021. Part of that discussion will be about tuition. DSU’s tuition for the past school year was $3,519/semester for Delaware students and $8,258/semester for out-of-state students. Wesley students paid $13,467 per semester for the 2019-2020 school year.

Allen said the deal is contingent on DSU’s ability to get extra funding from the federal government or private investors. He said he won’t turn to state lawmakers, who have already sent millions to keep Wesley alive as it searched for a partner.

“Our interests lie with the Congressional delegation specifically, and also private funders that we believe will have a significant interest,” Allen said.

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