Wheeling Jesuit University, the only Catholic institution of higher education in West Virginia, announced on May 23 that the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston's purchase of the university's property will help the school stabilize its financial outlook and secure its future.
In recent years, the Jesuit university "has experienced a series of financial challenges," like many small, public and private universities, a university news release said.
Earlier this year, the school's trustees appealed to the diocese "to take action to help secure its long-term future and lower its operating costs," the release said. "Specifically, the university was challenged by its long-term debt, and determined that the annual payments were more than it could sustain."
Wheeling-Charleston Bishop Michael J. Bransfield and the diocese responded by redeeming Wheeling Jesuit University's bonds, it said.
The diocese will purchase all university property in exchange for the bond redemption. It originally gave the property to the school as a gift in 1952.
The move allows "the university's administration to focus on strengthening operations and building a sustainable financial model," the news release said. "The property will be leased back to the university at a nominal rate. The diocese will have no ongoing responsibility for the operation of the university."
"We are ever grateful for the generosity of the diocese and Bishop Bransfield to strengthen the future of Wheeling Jesuit University," Debra Townsley, university president, said in a statement. "WJU is an academic community that truly lives its mission of life, leadership and service while providing a high quality, affordable education for students in West Virginia and around the world."
Founded in 1954, the university is one of the nation's 28 Jesuit-run colleges and universities. Its main campus covers 65 acres. It currently has a student body of about 1,400 students representing 37 states and more than 20 countries, and it offers 47 programs of study, including seven master's programs, including in business administration, nursing and education leadership, and a doctoral program in physical therapy.
The Wheeling-Charleston Diocese's commitment to support the university will enable the school "to modify its cost structure with the goal of achieving a balanced budget," the news release said. Under Townsley's leadership, it "will embark on a new strategy to reimagine, realign and renew the future of Jesuit education that began with the support of the diocese more than 60 years ago."
It added that university and church officials feel that as West Virginia's only Catholic university, the school "has a special responsibility to offer a Jesuit education in the state and the region."