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Iowa Wesleyan University and Saint Leo University in Florida are walking away from partnership plans after encountering difficulties with financial conditions, student financial aid and accreditation.

In 2018, Iowa Wesleyan survived a closure scare by securing gifts and financing from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It then sought partnerships and entered a due diligence process with Saint Leo.

But Iowa Wesleyan’s debt load was a barrier -- Saint Leo asked the USDA to forgive part of a $21.4 million loan to the private college in Iowa, Iowa Wesleyan’s president, Christine Plunkett, told The Gazette Friday. Iowa Wesleyan would also have changed accreditors if talks were consummated, which would have made its students ineligible for the Iowa Tuition Grant. That’s significant because the state grant went to almost a fifth of Iowa Wesleyan’s students as of this fall, and Iowa Wesleyan has been emphasizing recruitment of in-state students.

Plunkett told The Gazette that she is certain Iowa Wesleyan will be able to stay open through the year and that she is “fairly confident that we have what we need to operate into next year.” A group of trustees is evaluating next steps that could still include some sort of partnership.

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