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Wells College shutting down: Officials say financial hurdles were too great

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  • Josh Durso 

In a significant announcement, Wells College has announced its upcoming closure at the end of this academic semester, citing financial struggles. The esteemed institution, which has been an integral part of the community since 1868, highlighted that despite exhaustive efforts to stabilize finances, continuing operations has become unsustainable.

Facing challenges like decreased student numbers, inflation, and shifting perceptions of higher education exacerbated by the pandemic, Wells College has tried various strategies to avoid this outcome. These included fundraising campaigns and innovative program introductions. Unfortunately, these measures were insufficient to ensure long-term stability.

In light of the closure, Wells College has formed a strategic partnership with Manhattanville University to support current students. This collaboration will allow Wells students to complete their education smoothly, with Manhattanville creating dedicated housing and advising structures specifically for them. Furthermore, the agreement includes preserving the Wells College legacy within the Manhattanville community.

Manhattanville University, located in Purchase, NY, has been actively developing plans to integrate the history and traditions of Wells College into its campus. This partnership is designed to maintain the educational mission and community spirit of Wells College, ensuring that its students continue to receive quality education and support.

As Wells College prepares for its final semester, the board expresses deep gratitude to all alumni and supporters. Additional information regarding the transition is available on a dedicated website, which will be regularly updated to assist students, faculty, and alumni during this transition period.

The College faced financial uncertainty and the threat of possible closure during the pandemic.

How did Wells College get here? Officials answer questions

Why is Wells College Closing?

Wells College faces significant financial challenges. We conducted a comprehensive review of the institution’s financial health and future sustainability, including an independent analysis, which has led to the necessary conclusion of closure. Many small colleges, like Wells, grapple with enormous financial challenges and the pandemic has exacerbated these issues. This includes a nationwide shrinking pool of undergraduate students, inflationary pressures and negative sentiments towards higher education.

What steps were taken to address the financial challenges?

The Board and college leadership have taken decisive actions to address the institution’s financial challenges. This includes creating and executing aggressive strategic plans with faculty, staff, and graduates; streamlining the academic programs; seeking donor support; selling non-essential properties; introducing new revenue-bearing options such as workforce and educational partnerships and online learning for graduates; and implementing new marketing and recruitment initiatives and strategies. While some of these initiatives had positive impacts, the sum of these efforts was insufficient to improve financial projections.

Why weren’t alumni notified earlier in order to raise funds and save the college?

The College saw no likelihood of such significant fundraising goals being achieved year after year, nor the likelihood that new revenues could be identified in sufficient amounts and quickly enough to save the College. Fundraising helps to support the College, but the board recognizes that it cannot carry the College. Wells had already raised its fundraising goal for 2023-2024 above prior years’ achievements. These fundraising goals would have required more than double the goal to make possible, not certain, another year of operation. That doubled goal of approximately $12 million would have had to be sustained for several years unless other revenues could be identified.

How will the potential closure impact mission and legacy?

The Board’s plan includes a continuing commitment from the Wells College Alumni Association (WCA). Key individuals from the board and the WCA will work together in the coming months to secure the legacy of Wells College and share those opportunities in the future. Wells has selected a legacy partner institution, which will honor and preserve the legacy of the College for years to come.

What will happen to the Wells College campus?

Determining the future of the college’s campus and other real estate is currently under consideration. The Board will collaborate with village, county, and state attorney general and relevant local associations to make informed decisions.

What about other materials housed at the campus?

Wells has selected a legacy institution partner in Manhattanville University. This institution will plan to house various materials including transcripts, business records and other important artifacts.

Why was the College community notified at this point during the semester?

The board and its advisors have been working diligently to understand all options. Once the board voted to close the College, it is our obligation to communicate with our community in a timely manner. Making the announcement when students are present gives us the best opportunity to provide counseling and support and to make services available in person. Each student will have personal advising to plan for their degree path and the College will communicate directly with students for those advising appointments.

What happens next for students?

The College will assist students in graduating or continuing their studies elsewhere and outline a clear pathway to earn their degrees. A formal institutional teach-out plan, required by accrediting bodies, will guide the closure to minimize its impact on students. Specific information will be shared with impacted members of our community this week. Over the next several weeks and months, we will be working with employees to provide them with resources and support as they depart the institution.