Iowa residents happy IWU will continue operations
MOUNT PLEASANT, Iowa (AP) — The announcement made last month of Iowa Wesleyan University’s possible closure spurred many into a frenzy of uncertainty, but now that the decision has been made to continue its operations, the town’s residents are resting easier.
The private, four-year university supplies the Mount Pleasant area with about 150 jobs, and its about 700 students keep many local businesses, like the Coffee Depot, bustling.
“I was concerned for the whole community,” Bev Schumacher, co-owner of the Coffee Depot, told The Hawk Eye recently while flitting about the Depot’s kitchen, readying drive-thru orders as a line of college-aged customers began to form at the counter. “It’s a small college, but it’s a big college to this town.”
Schumacher estimated college students make up between 20 and 25 percent of her business. She was concerned not only for the health of her business, but also for that of Mount Pleasant’s rental and job markets, so she was relieved when she learned the university’s board of trustees decided to keep the doors open.
“It was wonderful, and that guy right there gave me the news both times,” she said, motioning toward Carter Jensen, 20, a sophomore majoring in criminal justice at IWU.
The Coffee Depot, about two blocks from the Iowa Wesleyan campus, is a frequent watering hole for students like Jensen, who can be found there most mornings.
Jensen came to Mount Pleasant two years ago from Gold Coast, Australia, a city with a population of more than 500,000.
“I love being here, so I was pretty concerned. I didn’t want to move,” Jensen said. “I’m from a big city in Australia, so I enjoy being in a small town and getting to know people. ... Going even to places like this it doesn’t take long for people to get to know you personally and know your name and what you’ve been up to.”
It’s students like Jensen who helped Schumacher get the Coffee Depot up and running.
“It took my 2.5 years of running it to get this sucker up and going, and they made it happen,” she said.
The Coffee Depot also serves as an about once-a-week classroom for Jonathan Evans, who teaches sports management at IWU. Evans, who began his teaching career 12 years ago at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, came to Mount Pleasant two years ago for the position at IWU.
His wife, Katherine, is director of career services for the university. The two have a young son and a baby due in January, and neither Evans nor his wife intended to leave the area any time soon.
“Our family is 100 percent invested in working for Iowa Wesleyan, so we were very concerned when the news came out about our financial instability,” Evans said. “This is a place we hope to start careers and certainly we didn’t anticipate these challenges.”
Evans was concerned not only for his family’s well-being, but also for that of Mount Pleasant.
“On the community, I think it would be devastating,” Evans said, pointing to the $50 million annual impact IWU has said it has on the region’s economy. Details about how that number was reached have not been released. “When you talk about businesses like this that are in close proximity, I think that there’s a major hit that comes when you take faculty and staff and students out of the equation.”
The Mount Pleasant Area Chamber Alliance also was concerned about the impact Iowa Wesleyan’s closure would have on the community, which is why it pledged $120,000 to help keep the institution open.
Kristi Ray, executive vice president of the Chamber, pointed to several areas that would be hit hard by an IWU closure, including jobs and the energy students bring to the community.
“Obviously, they’re one of our larger employers and they provide not only the jobs that are directly related to Iowa Wesleyan, but we were also concerned about the trickle-down from other employees that might be spouses or children,” Ray said. “We were also very concerned with the vitality that the students bring to this community. Not only were we losing an employer, we would’ve lost the students that add so much to our community.”
Iowa Wesleyan adopted its service learning approach in 1967, and it now provides Old Threshers, a major economic and tourism draw for the community, with numerous student volunteers.
Evans said students have been involved in numerous other service activities throughout the region, including renovation of local sports and recreation facilities, the repaving of the Mount Pleasant Junior High School’s blacktop last year and this year’s cleanup of the Little League fields. IWU students also helped renovate the Field of Dreams site in Dyersville after it was vandalized in January.
While Evans is relieved that the university will remain open, he still has questions about the university’s long-term plan for sustainability, such as who potential partners might be and whether it could be absorbed by a larger public entity.
Pursuit of those partnerships will be the responsibility of the New Directions Team. IWU President Steven Titus said previously he hopes Iowa Wesleyan will be able to pioneer a new way of operating small, private universities. It’s a hope that Evans shares.
“I think it’s important to have a niche to offer in higher education, but it’s these types of schools that are having the most trouble staying open,” Evans said.
Information from: The Hawk Eye, http://www.thehawkeye.com