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Wells College may shut down for good if students can’t return to campus in fall

Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, the spring semester at Wells College could have been the last one.

President Jonathan Gibralter authored a stunning letter to the campus community – outlining the steps Wells would take to avoid closure, but noted that if there is not in-person learning this fall – the college would have to shut down.

The detailed letter lays out the unprecedented circumstances the College is facing.

“As you are aware, in March of 2019, Wells College went through an accreditation review overseen by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education,” Gibralter said in the letter to alum and community members. “Because of financial challenges we faced in the past as a small, liberal arts college, Middle States’ responsibility was to review the College’s operations including academics, student life and our finances. Since the College distributes federal funds to students, Middle States has an obligation to ensure that Wells and all such colleges are fiscally sound and that all students have the opportunity to graduate. We presented the Commission with our plan to become financially sustainable in December 2019. The plan was accepted and, as a result, the Commission granted us the time to bring our plan to fruition.”

Gibralter says Wells College for the 2020-21 year was on a ‘forward trajectory’.

“With the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, our efforts to further address the requirements of the Middle States Commission were temporarily halted,” the President continued. “Dealing with a health crisis of such unimaginable proportions commanded all our attention. I therefore requested an extension of our next deadline from the Commission and it has been granted.”

He says that the school will continue following all social distancing requirements until they can successfully reopen to New York’s standard.

“Wells College, like all other educational institutions, is facing an unprecedented financial fallout from the economic ravages of COVID-19. With so much uncertainty about the short-term future, we must examine even more closely our ability to meet the financial criteria required by Middle States for continued accreditation,” Gibralter said.

He says several revenue sources that support the College’s operating budget are up in the air. This includes the 40-year program we have administered in Florence, Italy, and Wells’ proposed business degree completion program with Monroe Community College in Rochester. “The collaboration with MCC is in fact delayed indefinitely because the NYS Education Department cannot act on our proposal or any others at this time. These are just two examples, of the many consequences of the pandemic thus far,” Gibralter continued.

“Over the past six weeks, along with the Cabinet and the Board of Trustees, I have been reviewing our current operating budget based on financial projections for the upcoming academic year. If New York State continues its mandate that our campus remain closed through all or part of the fall semester, Wells simply will not receive enough revenue to continue operations,” Gibralter said, laying the groundwork for the stunning campus along Cayuga Lake to cease. “A substantial amount of the College’s operating budget comes from room and board revenue, so without enough students participating in our residential life, the College cannot afford to reopen.”

Gibralter says he’s been in touch with U.S. Senators Schumer and Gillibrand, as well as U.S. Congressman Katko, and NYS Representatives Helming and Finch. He says that Governor Andrew Cuomo has also been contacted.

“We will continue to explore every possible opportunity known and perhaps some as yet unknown to us. I promise that we will report back on our progress at least every other week. Together we are strong and it is my hope that we will prevail,” Gibralter concluded.