DOVER — In a history-making moment, Delaware State University finalized its acquisition of the now-former Wesley College on Thursday — marking the first time a historically Black college or university has acquired another higher-education institution.
"Not many folks thought we would get to this point when we announced this a year ago, except for my team and my Wesley colleagues," DSU President Dr. Tony Allen said in a news conference Thursday morning at the university. "This is a historic moment for Delaware State University and for the historically Black college or university community."
While Dr. Allen said it is noteworthy that DSU is making history as an HBCU with this acquisition, he said that was not the reason behind it. He said this offers DSU the opportunity to grow and diversify, noting that the college plans to increase its student population to 10,000.
"We needed to serve more students who needed our brand of excellence, education and care," he said. "We needed to increase the size of our footprint, build on our key programs, grow our research base and enhance our economic impact on the state of Delaware."
During the conference, Dr. Allen announced the leadership team for DSU Downtown, as the Wesley College campus will now be known.
Dr. Stacy Downing will serve as chief administrative officer of DSU Downtown. Dr. Terrell Holmes will serve as associate vice president.
Former Wesley employee Laura Mayse is the new director of development and community relations for the downtown campus. Dr. Gwendolyn Scott-Jones, whose first day on the job was Thursday, is the dean of Wesley College of Health and Behavioral Sciences.
Dr. Allen praised the team as being a "tremendous" one throughout the process.
"You all have believed in this new opportunity for us, and we will grow together in a way that Delaware and this country has not seen," Dr. Allen said.
He touted a gradual, phased approach for students and staff who have opted to join DSU ahead of the fall semester to ensure the process is as smooth as possible.
While DSU will be taking control of Wesley's "total capital infrastructure," Dr. Allen said DSU plans to move slowly, with its first "big move" being bringing DSU's College of Health and Behavioral Sciences to the downtown campus.
"We're going to grow into this softly," Dr. Allen said.
He said about 75 Wesley staff members will be joining the DSU faculty. About 60% of Wesley's staff were offered a job at DSU with "no consequence to their salaries or benefits," he said.
"We see that as a great number and a great opportunity," Dr. Allen said.
Of the 650 Wesley students who were able to transfer, Dr. Allen said about 472 students have done so, noting he is not sure where students who opted against transferring decided to continue their education.
He added that 100% of students who did transfer will have a lower tuition than what they had at Wesley College.
"They will be guaranteed a lower price," he said. "We do not want to impact them financially."
Speaking to the transitioning programming from Wesley College to DSU, Dr. Scott-Jones said all 14 programs from Wesley will be up and running come the fall semester.
All programs offered by DSU will be available at the Downtown DSU campus, excluding nursing.
DSU also is offering associate degree programs from Wesley, as well, including occupational therapy.
While President of Wesley College Bob Clark noted that any type of change can be stressful, he said this is positive for the students.
"You have to be able to understand that, appreciate that and try to do everything you can to try and mitigate that," Mr. Clark said. "But at the end of day, you're not. So there are people that were not happy. There are people that were very vocal, but the balance to that is there were so, so many people that were positive."
Mr. Clark said, right now, he plans to enjoy his retirement.
Sen. Trey Paradee, D-Dover, who Dr. Allen said was the chief sponsor of DSU's Inspire Scholarship, called Wesley's acquisition a big moment.
"What we are witnessing is history," he said. "I think this day will be looked back on 25, 50, 100 years from now as being a real inflection point in the history of DSU, in the history of Dover — particularly the downtown area."
He noted "it's been a long road getting here," saying that about four years ago, Wesley was in a difficult financial position.
"There were myself, Rep. Sean Lynn and others who worked really hard to try and keep Wesley afloat, quite honestly," Sen. Paradee said.
He praised Mr. Clark, who he said inherited a "really difficult situation" when he became the college's president in 2015.
Sen. Paradee also praised Dr. Allen's vision for Wesley College and what the school could become. He said, as the senator representing the downtown Dover area, he was concerned about what could have happened to the college campus had no higher-education university stepped in.
Sen. Paradee said anything other than DSU would have "radically changed" the character of downtown Dover.
"Bob Clark called me one day and said, 'I had a conversation with Tony Allen and, man, he has a real vision for what could be done with the property,'" Sen. Paradee said. "Honestly, this is going to go down as probably the greatest real estate transaction for the state of Delaware, ever."
Sen. Paradee invited Sen. Colin Bonini, R-Dover, to the stage, calling him "the greatest champion for Wesley" in the General Assembly. A graduate of Wesley College, Sen. Bonini called the day a bittersweet moment but one that will have a happy ending.
"I think Wesley is just an amazing place, and I tell people all the time that Wesley College is in the business of changing lives," he said. "By the way, that's the business Delaware State University is in."