DSU-Wesley deal could bring new energy to Dover
DOVER — Although acquiring Wesley College will not be finalized until July 2021, Delaware State University President Tony Allen envisions the larger campus infusing more energy into downtown Dover and its economy in turn.
“When you build on capacity, you start to think about how downtown relates to the economic or cultural revitalization,” Allen told the Dover City Council. “If we build a corridor here, it really is a unique opportunity for more young people to be engaged in more opportunities for experiential learning across a number of platforms.”
Earlier this summer, DSU formally announced it would acquire Wesley in what was billed as a “once-in-a-generation opportunity” to expand the historically Black college while preserving Wesley’s 147-year-old foundation. Allen and Wesley College President Robert Clark submitted a plan to the Middle States Commission on Higher Education at the end of July and anticipate approval in March 2021.
The overall transition is expected to take three years. DSU has brought on a consultant to smooth out the transition process.
In a Tuesday night meeting of the Dover City Council, Allen outlined possibilities for Wesley’s future, since nothing is set in stone at this time. An economic impact analysis shows that DSU delivers $266 million to the state — and $80 million directly in Kent County — and that could continue to grow to $314 million. With 1,000 Wesley students and a 50-acre campus in the heart of Dover, that could bring dividends in local spending and workforce development.
Both DSU and Wesley have strong nursing and psychology programs, and Allen said Wesley’s laboratory space would address DSU’s rising interest to enter the research sector. Furthermore, it would also eliminate some barriers for available grant awards. All these signs could mean that Wesley could become themed for health and behavioral sciences, like public and allied health; nursing, social work, and psychology, Allen said.
It could also be the site for DSU’s Early College High School, a charter school with approximately 425 students from all three counties. In both possibilities, Allen stresses “vibrancy” to downtown for students and faculty.
“Our ability to expose them to downtown is both as an opportunity for them to go to our class but also by [being a] learning lab — the city itself being a lab — will be important,” he said.
Shared investment in Dover could also serve as another catalyst for economic revival, like the Schwartz Center for the Arts which is co-owned by both colleges. Other more direct business opportunities might include student-led endeavors with the support of the university’s other properties in the city, like a coffee shop on South State Street and Loockerman Plaza.
“Our capacity to build cultural and economic vitality through the prospect of higher education is a model that has worked in many places and I think it will work here,” Allen said.
In terms of faculty and staff, Allen did not give specifics about what to expect when the merger is complete. But while a consultant is evaluating staffing levels, Allen did say that DSU faculty members had remained flat even though enrollment has grown. DSU stands at 5,000 students while Wesley has seen a year-over-year enrollment drop of 15% in the fall of 2019 compared to 2018.
Combined, DSU predicts there will be 5,887 students come the fall of 2021 and there is the potential to have 8,541 students enrolled by fall of 2025.
“As we bring up even more students, it’s clear that we’ll need to bring on some level — and I’d say some significant level — of faculty and staff to support the new configuration,” Allen said.
By Katie Tabeling