Wilmington University Turns 50

Wilmington College was chartered by the state of Delaware on Dec. 27, 1967, though its classes began in 1968.

Cover Story by Maria Hess  |  Special thanks to Dr. Angela Suchanic and Natalie Ridgeway

Students recruited from New Jersey and New York lived in dorms and attended classes at the newly purchased Tour Inn Motor Court on DuPont Highway in New Castle, Delaware. The governance of Wilmington University rests with its Board of Trustees. Today, Joseph J. Farnan Jr. leads the dedicated board. Dr. Donald E. Ross was appointed founding president late in 1967 and held the office from 1968 through 1977. Chairman Nicholas N. Mazarella, who served as acting president from July 1, 1977, through January 30, 1979, succeeded him. Dr. Audrey K. Doberstein became president on April 6, 1979, then was succeeded by Dr. Jack P. Varsalona in 2005. He served as president until June 2017. Dr. LaVerne T. Harmon was appointed president on July 1, 2017, and leads the University today.


Timeline

1959
1959

This timeline depicts important events of Wilmington University’s history.

Wilmington University serves more than 20,000 students, 87 percent of whom work full- or part-time. It offers more than 150 degree and certificate programs and conducts more than 100 fully online programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. The University is one of the most affordable private, nonprofit institutions in the region, and students graduate with 60 percent less student loan debt that the U.S. average. Twelve locations are in operation: Delaware: New Castle, Wilson Graduate Center, Brandywine, Dover, Dover Air Force Base, Georgetown; and in New Jersey at the following partner schools: Rowan College at Burlington County, Camden County College, Cumberland County College, Salem Community College, Rowan College at Gloucester County, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and Mercer County Community College. The quest to offer opportunity to all who wish to transform their lives through quality education has never been stronger. Wu

1960
1960

1968

1968

Under the direction of President Donald E. Ross, Wilmington College opened to 147 students. Eight men and women were hired as full-time professors and several community members and field experts formed the adjunct faculty. In its first year, the college offered bachelor’s degree programs in Political Science, English and Business Administration.

1960

1969

1969

Wilmington College established a location at Dover Air Force Base to accommodate numerous military students as well as those interested in Aviation curriculum.

1970
1970

1970

1970

The student population had grown to 310, an increase of 35 percent in one year. Four majors, Behavioral Science, Communication Arts, Criminal Justice and Aviation Management, were added, making it a total of seven degree programs.

1970

1972

Student demographics shifted significantly. Enrollment consisted of 630 students — 482 men and 148 women; 402 were full-time students while 228 enrolled as part-timers. Two-thirds were local and commuted to classes. The majority of students were now from Delaware. Many were non-traditional — age 24 or older — and had work experience. Most of these students were the first in their families to attend college.

1970

1973

1973

Enrollment hit 650. Evening and weekend classes were scheduled to accommodate the growing numbers of working students. The year also saw the initiation of WCOM, the college’s radio and television stations.

1970

1974

Wilmington College introduced the Professional Arts majors.

1970

June 26, 1975

Wilmington College received accreditation from the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States. As President Ross stated upon receipt of the accreditation letter: “We crawled before we walked. Now we’re getting ready to run.”

1970

1977

Enrollment reached 725 students.

 


 

The college initiated its first graduate program, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.

1970

April 1979

April 1979

Dr. Audrey Kohl Doberstein was named president of Wilmington College, which made her the first female to preside over a four-year college in Delaware. Her vision was to transform the college into a thriving institution with satellite colleges throughout Delaware and a student body of more than 10,000, That vision was realized. Dr. Doberstein was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women in 2011.

1970

1972

1972

The college celebrated its first graduating class of 174 students.

1970

1972

Wilmington College established its baseball and basketball teams: the Wilmington College Wildcats. The teams became part of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics and then the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

1980
1980

1980

Men’s and women’s softball and volleyball varsity teams were formed.

 


 

The institution moved from a two-semester to a three-semester year and began offering eight-week courses.

1980

1980

1980

The college opened its Georgetown location at Delaware Technical Community College’s southern campus — the genesis of a fruitful partnership.

1980

1980

1980

The college opened a second location in Dover at Silver Lake.

1980

1980

Enrollment reached 1,000 students

1980

April 1981

April 1981

The college acquired the U.S. Customs House in Wilmington. Its classrooms and conference rooms accommodated students who lived or worked in the city. (The building was sold in 2007.)

1980

mid-1980’s

The first BSN program was formed to serve working nurses who needed flexible schedules and wanted to advance in the health care industry.  (The MSN was established in 1993.) Police academies were added to the college’s Criminal Justice program for cadets wishing to accelerate their training processes via weekend classes. Master’s level programs in Counseling, Instructional Leadership, Special Education, and Alternative Certification were added, as well as a bachelor’s in Elementary Education and a doctoral program in Education.

1980

1986

Enrollment reached 1,650 students.

1980

1986

1986

Ground was broken for the 26,000-square-foot Pratt Student Center at the New Castle location. Dedicated on April 20, 1988, it housed a gym, exercise room, student services, faculty offices, labs and lecture rooms. (The New Pratt Center opened in 2012 after an extensive renovation, and is now an inviting student center with a game and recreation room, lounge and conversation pit.)

1980

1989

The dorms were closed, making Wilmington a commuter college.

 


 

Enrollment reached 2,000 students.

1990
1990

1991

The Doctor of Education in Innovation and Leadership program began and was offered in both the northern and southern portions of the state.

1990

1995

1995

Ground was broken for the 65,000-square-foot Robert C. and Dorothy M. Peoples Library Building on the New Castle location. It housed an extensive library, as well as labs, classrooms and offices.

1990

1998

1998

A new academic division, Division of Advanced Communications Technology, was introduced. It later became the College of Technology.

2000
2000

2000

The Admissions and Classroom Center opened. (It was renamed the Audrey Kohl Doberstein Admissions Center in the fall of 2007.)

2000

2003

2003

Carving a path for future distance learning opportunities, Wilmington College offered its first hybrid (fusion) courses, blending face-to-face and online interaction with students. This paved the way for its first fully online degree programs that were introduced in 2007.

2000

2004

The Vision 2010 Strategic Plan was adopted.


The college’s sports program became NCAA Division II. Eleven sports were added.

2000

2004

2004

A 58,000-square-foot academic building in northern Dover opened, reflecting projections in the region’s growth.

2000

2005

2005

Dr. Jack P. Varsalona was named the third president of Wilmington College. He had taught courses as an adjunct since 1983 and was hired full-time on April 6, 1987. Under his leadership, enrollment grew from 10,222 in 2005 to more than 21,000 by 2017; locations increased from four to 11, expanding to New Jersey and Maryland; and 118 online programs were developed, making WilmU a regional pioneer in distance learning.

2000

2005

Reaccreditation followed self-study and a team visit. There were no recommendations.

 


 

The University’s Faculty Development area was created. (It became the Center for Teaching Excellence in September of 2016.)

2000

2005

2005

The Wilson Graduate Center opened in the New Castle Corporate Commons complex.

2000

2006

The DBA program was introduced.

2000

2007

2007

Wilmington College became Wilmington University to better reflect its strong strategic plan and evolving nature. Wilmington College had met many of the criteria to be considered a University, including multiple campuses and programs of study ranging from associate to doctoral degrees, and served more than 11,500 students.

2000

2007

2007

WilmU gained licensure in New Jersey, a huge advance for the University. Expansion of New Jersey licensures took place in 2007, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2018.

2000

Spring, 2008

The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program was initiated.

2000

June 1, 2009

Divisions became colleges. The University housed the colleges of Arts and Sciences (formerly General Studies, founded in 1989), Business (1968), Education (1978) Health Professions (formerly Nursing and Allied Health, 1985), Social and Behavioral Sciences (1972), and Technology (1998).

2000

2009

2009

The University opened its location at the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst Air Force Base.

2010
2010

2011

WilmU’s Dual Enrollment Program started, partnering with William Penn High School in New Castle.

 


 

Brandywine, a new location at Concord Plaza in North Wilmington, opened to serve the large population of students who lived and worked north of the New Castle area.

 


 

WilmU piloted its co-op (CAP/Co-Op) Community & Academic Partnerships Cooperative Education program. (The initiative commenced in the spring of 2012. The department was renamed Work Integrated Learning and operates within the College of Online and Experiential Learning.)

2010

2011

2011

Ground was broken for the 22,000-square-foot Wilmington University Sports Complex on Route 40 in New Castle. It opened a year later to house a gym, built-in bleachers, locker rooms, training facility, staff offices and concession areas.

2010

2013

The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree program was launched. (The first cohort graduated in May of 2015.)

 


 

WilmU’s College of Online and Experiential Learning was established.

 


 

Enrollment of international students hits 1,000. The students hailed from India, Nepal, Turkey, Bangladesh, China and other countries.

2010

2017

2017

Ground was broken in 2017 for Wilmington University Brandywine, a 41.5-acre location that will replace the Concord Plaza location. For more info, visit wilmu.edu/brandywine. Classes begin this January!

2010

July 1, 2017

July 1, 2017

Dr. LaVerne T. Harmon was unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees to serve as the fourth president of Wilmington University. She is the first African-American woman to be named the president of a university in the state of Delaware. Dr. Harmon began working at Wilmington University in 1989 and held numerous positions while earning undergraduate and graduate degrees from Wilmington University and a Doctorate in Higher Education Administration from the University of Pennsylvania. She has played key roles in the University’s internal operations, strategic planning and growth since becoming its executive vice president in 2014. She is committed to the University’s strategic initiatives: focusing on students, expanding opportunity, enhancing academic excellence, strengthening the organization, and investing in its future.

2010

2018

2018

Wilmington University serves more than 20,000 students, 87 percent of whom work full- or part-time. It offers more than 150 degree and certificate programs and conducts more than 100 fully online programs at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels. The University is one of the most affordable private, nonprofit institutions in the region, and students graduate with 60 percent less student loan debt that the U.S. average. Twelve locations are in operation: Delaware: New Castle, Wilson Graduate Center, Brandywine, Dover, Dover Air Force Base, Georgetown; and in New Jersey at the following partner schools: Rowan College at Burlington County, Camden County College, Cumberland County College, Salem Community College, Rowan College at Gloucester County, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, and Mercer County Community College. The quest to offer opportunity to all who wish to transform their lives through quality education has never been stronger.