Higher Education Soars Higher
Move over, UD and DSU. Delaware’s private colleges are sharpening their public profiles.
by Jim Waltzer Published March 16, 2010 at 08:35 AM
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“We pride ourselves in being a residential campus,” says Johnston. “We continue to become a greater part of the fabric of Dover.”
One example is Wesley’s alliance with the refurbished Schwartz Center, a performing arts venue in which the school holds a one-third stake. The center, which hosts the likes of celebrated dance troupe Philadanco, also stages performances by Wesley students, along with college lectures and winter commencement exercises.
Though Wesley draws some students from outside the Mid-Atlantic—even from outside the country—and offers opportunities to study abroad, it seeks greater recognition beyond Delaware.
“One of our goals is to become more regionally and nationally known,” says Johnston. “We could gradually add, say, a thousand students and not lose our personality.”
The Evolution Continues
Back in the days when U.S. 13 was the way to Washington, D.C., a motel and gas station near Del. 141 in New Castle provided a pit stop for motorists. But by 1968, travel plans had changed, and the hostelry and filling station were in receivership, so a new school set up shop on the premises. Wilmington College’s charter class of 194 lived and learned in the converted motel.
Since then, the school has really stepped on the gas. Today’s Wilmington University boasts 10 locations and 14,000 students. What began as a liberal arts program for traditional college-age students later shifted focus to working adults. It now combines the two groups on a near 50-50 basis. Since 90 percent of Wilmington University students work, many traditional students attend night classes, where they mix well with seasoned members of the workforce. All benefit from the wisdom of age and the energy of youth.
“Both say they learn from each other,” says president Jack Varsalona, and both groups share a career focus. “We want them to be employed, so we look for where the jobs are and build degrees around them.”
Hence Wilmington’s strength in education, criminal justice, business and nursing—a few of the array of undergraduate and graduate programs. The newest member of the curriculum may be game design and development, a nod to the exploding market of video-game technology for recreational use and beyond.
The university’s growth has been similarly robust. The Dupont Highway location in New Castle has morphed from motel to a full-service main campus that has expanded into the nearby New Castle Corporate Commons, where Wilson Graduate Center handles most of WU’s advanced degrees. New locations in Claymont and Middletown cut commuting time for out-of-state and working students. Wilmington University Dover serves central Delaware, and the school’s berth at Dover Air Force Base is open to civilians as well as military personnel. The Georgetown campus attracts a large percentage of DelTech students who go on to higher education. A Rehoboth Beach site offers enrichment courses, as well as basic college coursework.
At AstraZeneca locations in Wilmington, employees can enroll in several degree programs. Across the Delaware River, Burlington and Cumberland community colleges have joined Salem Community College in providing select degree-completion programs. And for those who prefer the comforts of home, computer-based distance-learning tests some 2,000 students.
The commuter school’s low annual tuition of $7,200 has the working student in mind. “We know they have to be able to afford [college],” says Varsalona, “so we keep the dollars low through eliminating frills—and with high productivity.”