MOUNT PLEASANT, IOWA — An Iowa private university that prides itself on being older than the state itself will close for good after 181 years at the end of this semester. The Board of Trustees for Iowa Wesleyan University voted unanimously on Tuesday to close the school after years of financial problems and Governor Reynolds’ rejection of a request to use federal money to help them stay open.

“It is with deep sadness that we announce the Board of Trustees has made the heartbreaking decision to close our beloved Iowa Wesleyan after 181 years as an educational pillar in this community,” university president Christine Plunkett wrote in an online statement after the vote was announced. “Our focus is now on assuring our over 850 students have a smooth transition to another educational opportunity.”

Plunkett writes that the school has reached agreements with William Penn University, Upper Iowa University, Culver-Stockton College and the University of Dubuque to allow students to finish their degrees while incurring similar costs.

In a lengthy statement posted on the school’s website, leaders say they submitted a proposal to the state of Iowa seeking $12 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to offset financial losses they’ve suffered since the COVID-19 pandemic. Their request was personally denied by Governor Reynolds.

“Like many colleges and universities nationally that have recently announced closure, (Iowa Wesleyan) has been confronted with many headwinds including increasing operating costs, declining numbers of high school graduates nationally and insurmountable inflationary pressures. We have worked tirelessly to find solutions at all levels but to no avail,” Board of Trustees Chairman Robert Miller said in a statement.

Governor Reynolds released a statement in response to the news from Iowa Wesleyan to defend her denial of federal funds. Reynolds says an independent audit of the school found that it has an outstanding $26.1 million USDA loan that uses their campus as collateral. Despite enrollment increasing at the school in recent years, Reynolds says “their financial health has continued to deteriorate over the same period” and she decided against pursuing federal money for the school.

Iowa Wesleyan Literary Institute was founded in Mount Pleasant in 1841, five years before Iowa would be granted statehood. Among the school’s most famous alumni are astronaut Peggy Whitson, astrophysicist James Van Allen and retired baseball player and manager Davy Lopes.