By Jay Simon and Wendy-Akua Adjei; The Whetstone

Last fall, students at Wesley began to hear rumors about the college either being bought or merging with another institution, including the University of Delaware and Goldey-Beacom College. UD, however, said the university had been in “exploratory conversations” with Wesley, but had stopped about a year ago.

The name of the institution remained a mystery until its name was revealed in a tweet from a Delaware State News reporter.

St. Leo University, based outside of Tampa, Fla., was named as the potential institution.

Wesley College has been struggling for several years to keep numbers up in both money and students to keep its doors open.

The college has received more than $6 million from the state over the past two years. The state made it clear that this was their last time giving Wesley money, requiring Wesley to send them a financial and graduation plan.

Neither Wesley College nor St. Leo will confirm that the two schools may be on the verge of a potential merger.

“I cannot comment on the identity of any of the College’s potential partners,” Wesley provost Jeff Gibson said.

Gibson said Wesley is struggling financially like many other schools from a negative demographic trend.

“This is largely due to the fact that, demographically, there are fewer traditional college-age students today, and of those, more are choosing not to enter college after high school,” he said.  “In other words, there are fewer college students to go around, so enrollment has declined. We’ve experienced this same decline at Wesley over the past few years.”

It makes sense for Wesley to look for a partner, he said.

“Entering into a partnership is a way for Wesley to establish long-term stability, for example, by combining its recruitment efforts and marketing resources with another institution in order to increase enrollment,” he said.

Christine McDermott, director of student success and retention, said the potential merger is a good thing.

“As a Wesley College alum and now an employee of Wesley College, I recognize that merging with another institution is the best next step,” she said.

McDermott said the college must make changes to grow.

“We have a lot of opportunity for growth and many of those opportunities are not possible without a partnership,” she said. “Change is always difficult because we are all used to doing things a certain way, but innovation is now necessary for Wesley College. I, for one, am hopeful for change.”

St. Leo and Wesley Compared

St. Leo University, a private Roman Catholic liberal arts university in St. Leo, Fla., is Florida’s first Catholic university, founded in 1889. Wesley was founded nearly two decades before.

St. Leo has about 2,000 undergraduate students, according to its website; Wesley counted about 850 this spring. Unlike Wesley, St. Leo has a large online learning component, and altogether reports it has more than 5,000 students.

St. Leo is also is financially much healthier than Wesley. It reportedly has an endowment of nearly $70 million, compared to Wesley’s $3.5 million.

An endowment is money the school holds in reserve. Colleges receive funds from outside sources, including alumni and donors of the colleges.

The graduation rate at St. Leo is 45% and its retention rate is 70.6%. Wesley’s graduation rate stands at nearly half of St. Leo’s, and its retention rate is at 58%.

Kendrick Gray, a sociology major who lives on campus at St. Leo, said his school has a lot to offer.

“One thing that I love about St. Leo is the class size,” he said. “Students are able to connect with their professors to ensure that they are meeting the criteria or even ask questions for further knowledge.”

He said he wasn’t aware of any merger with Wesley College.

Wesley College has four dorms on campus, since Williams and Gooding Hall were shut down two years ago, while St. Leo has nine living spaces for students on campus.

St. Leo’s highest price residence hall room rate is $12,090, while Wesley’s highest is Zimmerman Hall at $9,800 a year. St. Leo’s dorm rates range from $6,600 to $12,090. Wesley College dorm rates range from $5,818 to $9,800 a year.

Like Wesley, St. Leo also has meal plans to choose from with each dorm. Wesley College meal plans range from $2,712 to $5,899. Meal plans at St. Leo’s run up $5,250 a year.

St. Leo student Kathrin Halter said her life as a student there is pretty good.

“It’s pretty nice being a student athlete at St. Leo,” she said. “Everyone is really close on-campus. As a grad student, I don’t have that many hours but a lot of papers and stuff to write, which I can do whenever I want, which is pretty cool.”

She also said she was not aware of any potential merger.

Sports

St. Leo University is a Division 2 NCAA school, and thus offers athletic scholarships. Wesley College is a Division 3 school and cannot offer athletic scholarships.

Lacrosse player Collin Beck said he loves being at St. Leo and the atmosphere at practice and around campus is great.

“Being an athlete here is exciting and it is a good balance between athletics and academics,” he said. “The fields here are beautiful. Rarely do we practice in anything less than 75 (degrees). It brings a different energy to the table when coming to practice.”

Baseball player Jacob Remold said that athletics are a big part of St. Leo, and that its facilities are “unbeatable.”

“We have had a lot of success in all sports in the last five years, we celebrate our athletes, and we have won national championships in swimming, and golf recently,” he said. “Our lacrosse field is one of a kind, being at the top of our parking garage. It is surreal to be in the middle of a game and then look around and see palm trees.”

The women’s soccer team is St Leo’s most successful sport with seven playoff appearances and four championships.

St. Leo doesn’t have a football team, Wesley’s most popular sport.

Basketball player Kyran McLure said that he loves St. Leo and each of the sports programs are tough and competitive.

“It’s a small school so there is a lot of support amongst the sports programs,” he said. “All of our teams are aggressive so it is fun to go and watch each other play.”

Academics

St. Leo offers 147 programs compared to Wesley College’s 29. These programs include 58 bachelors, five associates, 39 masters, and five doctorate degrees. The school also provides 39 minors programs and 79 online courses.

St. Leo also houses 55 adult education centers in six southern states and in California.

The top ten majors at St. Leo are, from highest to lowest: Criminal Justice, Biology, Psychology, Management, Marketing, Sports Business, Computer Science, Accounting, Elementary Education, and English.

Wesley College’s top ten most popular majors based on undergraduate attendance during the spring 2019 semester include Nursing, Kinesiology, Psychology, Law and Justice, Business and Accounting, Psychology, Education, Liberal Studies, the Sciences, and Multimedia Communication.

Hopes

Wesley College student Sahara Katz said the nightlife is not very good, but praised Wesley’s learning experience.

“What I love about Wesley is I met some amazing people that I’ll have in my life forever,” she said. “I have a few professors that care for me and want me to do well.”

Katz said she knew the school was being looked at but did not know anything about the school in Florida. She said she hopes the potential merger makes Wesley a better school.

Mike Brewer, Madi Cook, Wes Dorcelus, Connor George, Troy Hamilton, Loutchina Jacques, Naz Jordan, DaQuan Martin, Kent Milligan and David Pierre contributed to this report