Commentary: Wesley College should receive needed funding

During the last few decades, I’ve heard repeated comments about the demise of Wesley College in Dover due to financial issues. Each crisis has been averted, thanks to renewed interest in the success of this small college nestled in the heart of Dover.

Now, Wesley appears to be facing another crisis, that is truly threatening it’s very existence. Either there is an infusion of funding, a merger with another institution or both needed for the college to succeed.

David Bonar

As a tuition-driven institution focused on liberal arts, the college can’t possibly succeed in the climate of today. It should and must have additional funding in order to succeed and flourish.

The excuse that “we’ve given them money before” or they’re a “private religious” institution is pure bull. Wesley is a Methodist affiliated college in name only. While it’s origins may have been aided by the church in the past, it’s nowhere near a religious college.

In fact, I’m told, the college receives a pittance from the Methodists and the only true connection is with ministers who have served on the Board of Trustees. Today’s Board is made up of business and community leaders who have the best interest of the college at heart, but who are hamstrung by alumni who are either unable or unwilling to step up to the plate and truly help this college. by establishing a well funded and sustainable endowment.

The state of Delaware has been generous in the last couple of years, giving the school a few million dollars in order to help out. Now I’m reading that members of the Higher Education Economic Development Investment Fund committee members are reluctant to step up again and are ready to throw in the towel.

I urge them to reconsider.

Wesley is an integral part of Dover, Kent County and the state of Delaware. It counts among its alumni members of the duPont family and others who have made a lasting contribution to the state.

Saying Wesley just has to work it out is folly. This college contributes tens of millions of dollars monthly to the Delaware and Dover community in the form of spending by its faculty, staff and student body. Wesley is the sole beacon of light in a neighborhood that is infected with blight and poverty.

The argument that government shouldn’t contribute to Wesley is silly. Taking that attitude, why then did the state contribute billions to Astra Zeneca only to see it move many of their jobs elsewhere? Why did legislators, including some on the committee reviewing economic assistance for Wesley, vote to approve a program for a renewable energy firm that gave idle promises of jobs that have never materialized and cost Delmarva Power consumers, even today, hundreds of millions of dollars in additional costs? Why does the Joint Finance Committee continue to contribute hundreds of millions of dollars to the University of Delaware with scant oversight and accountability as to how it is truly spent?

New Castle County, understandably, gets a huge benefit from state spending. Sussex County gets tons of economic aid for the hundreds of thousands of people who come there as tourists and to relocate to avoid high taxes in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and elsewhere.

Wesley is truly the only small college in the state of Delaware. Many students thrive and are more successful there by the personal attention they receive, something they do not get at the University of Delaware, Wilmington University or even Delaware Tech. This is particularly true of first-generation higher education students who often need this nurturing environment.

The loss of Wesley would be the loss of a valuable niche in the broad spectrum of higher education in Delaware. It would also remove a critical element that helps make Dover, Kent County and Delaware a better place to live, gain education, work and contribute to the overall prosperity of the region.

There is still a place for a small liberal arts college with strong professional programs. The Delaware legislature needs to stop using the excuse that Wesley is private or religiously affiliated. Holding back funds based on that flawed and outdated rationale does nothing to advance Delaware’s reputation as a leader in business and education.

David Bonar

David Bonar is a former president of Dover City Council and Delaware Public Advocate (retired).