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.
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
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.
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.
Wilmington College introduced the Professional Arts majors.
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.”
Enrollment reached 725 students.
The college initiated its first graduate program, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
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.
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.
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.
Enrollment reached 1,000 students
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.
Enrollment reached 1,650 students.
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.)
The dorms were closed, making Wilmington a commuter college.
Enrollment reached 2,000 students.
The Doctor of Education in Innovation and Leadership program began and was offered in both the northern and southern portions of the state.
The Admissions and Classroom Center opened. (It was renamed the Audrey Kohl Doberstein Admissions Center in the fall of 2007.)
The Vision 2010 Strategic Plan was adopted.
The college’s sports program became NCAA Division II. Eleven sports were added.
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.
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.)
The DBA program was introduced.
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.
The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program was initiated.
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).
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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.