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Delaware State University announced an acquisition Thursday.

Courtesy of Delaware State University

Delaware State University announced Thursday afternoon that it will acquire Wesley College, a private liberal arts college in Dover, Del., making Delaware State the first historically Black university to acquire an institution that is not a historically Black college or university.

During a press conference, Delaware State University president Tony Allen addressed why the university made the acquisition announcement during the worsening coronavirus pandemic and amid increased calls to address racism at colleges and universities across the country.

“There was a case to be made that a university like Delaware State University should be focusing on other things,” he said. “I would argue that that’s precisely what we’re doing. We are focusing on being bigger, broader and substantively the most diverse, contemporary and unapologetically historically Black college or university in the country.”

Wesley is a minority-serving institution. Nearly three-quarters of Delaware State University students are Black or African American. Over 40 percent of Wesley students are Black or African American, 37 percent are white and 7 percent are Hispanic or Latinx.

In 2019, Delaware State University enrolled 4,208 undergraduates and 378 graduate students. Wesley College enrolled 1,229 undergraduates and 122 graduate students.

The acquisition will be finalized by the end of June next year. The agreement hinges on several conditions to be met before then, including approval from appropriate government and accrediting bodies and a “successful organizational transition plan.” Delaware State University will also need to secure private or government funding outside of its operating revenue to manage the acquisition. Delaware State will coordinate with Wesley on its fiscal 2021 budget, operating expenses, vendor contracts and other obligations.

Delaware State will consider bringing on Wesley faculty and staff, Allen said, but no decisions have been made about how many. A teach-out agreement for current Wesley students is still in the works.

Allen noted the historic significance of the acquisition but emphasized that “it’s not the reason that it’s such an attractive opportunity for us.”

Harry Williams, CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and former president of Delaware State University, also weighed in on the move.

“This is an unprecedented landmark in the long history of HBCUs. No HBCU has ever acquired a non-HBCU institution before, but I am not surprised that Delaware State University is leading the way,” Williams said in a press release.

A small liberal arts college in the heart of downtown Dover, Wesley has struggled to stay in good financial health. Recent financial documents show the college has operated at a deficit for several years, and enrollment has declined by hundreds of students since 2013.

In the past two years, Wesley received more than $6 million in state funding and was approved in February for an additional $3 million on an as-needed basis while it searched for a buyer. It's still to be determined exactly how Delaware State will use Wesley's 50-acre campus. Delaware State sits just outside downtown Dover, a five-minute drive from Wesley's campus.

“The devil's in the details. Over the next year, we need to figure out what this relationship will look like,” said Wesley president Bob Clark during the press conference. “One thing is for certain -- no matter how this ends up looking, no matter what responsibilities this campus takes on versus the main campus, the collective opportunities that we provide will only be amplified.”

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