Strong for a Century, Strong for Tomorrow


A vision that began to evolve 100 years ago as Marion College laid a firm foundation for what would become Indiana Wesleyan University – a truly dynamic Christian institution.

Marion College had humble beginnings.  At the time of World War I, there was increasing talk of a college in Indiana to serve the heartland of the growing Wesleyan Methodist denomination.  By 1919, The Wesleyan Methodist Church already had colleges in three other regions of the United States – Houghton College, Central Wesleyan College and Miltonvale College – but none were centrally located.

When trustees of the Indiana Conference of The Wesleyan Methodist Church agreed that same year to purchase Marion Normal Institute in Marion, Indiana, they were driven by a desire to establish an institution of higher learning in Indiana.  Fairmount Bible School was in operation just a few miles away from Marion, but it didn’t provide the thorough training needed and desired by the Church.  So, the founders set out to build an institution that trained students in various vocations – not just ministry – to serve God, resolving to keep Christ at the center and pursue academic excellence.

Select a year below to learn more about the history of Indiana Wesleyan University.

The original Marion College campus in south Marion consisted primarily of the “Old Triangle,” a triangular tract of land on which the college was located. It opened in the fall of 1920 with five academic programs - the academy (high school), the college, the music department, theological department and oratorial department – and an enrollment of 235 students by the third week, growing to 280 students by the following spring. There were five graduates in the class of 1920-21.

From 1932 to 1960, the college came to fulfill an increasingly important role in the field of Christian higher education. During this period, Marion College navigated the difficulties of World War II and laid many foundations for its future, building a library, a dormitory, a physical education center and a bookstore. Under President McConn’s leadership, a college of arts and sciences and a divinity school were established.

1920's Campus Aerial View


1938 John Wesley Administration Building


1940 Chapel in the John Wesley Administration Building


The 1960s were a decade of major milestones. The “Program of Progress” initiated by President Woodrow Goodman prompted extensive self-study programs and curricular changes as well as land acquisition and construction. The student body grew from 420 to 849 students, including the first nursing students to be accepted and to graduate. In 1966, Marion College received accreditation from the North Central Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools. The college also began competing in intercollegiate athletics in 1968.

1960's Chapel Service


1970 Nursing Graduates


1978 Groundbreaking Ceremony


In the 1980s, Dr. James Hill, Jr. filled the office of president. He served for two years and left a legacy that would forever change the trajectory of the institution. Hill persuaded college trustees to approve an adult education program in 1985, which was named LEAP: Leadership Education for Adult Professionals. LEAP catapulted Marion College into an era of tremendous innovation and growth.

In June 1987, Dr. James Barnes became president of an institution that was on the brink of greatness and in need of a leader to guide it toward a solid financial footing. During Barnes’ presidency, Marion College changed its name to Indiana Wesleyan University. Enrollment grew leaps and bounds in the adult education program. New residence halls, academic buildings and other facilities transformed the campus, enabling residential education to grow along with adult education. During the 1990s, Indiana Wesleyan University was an early pioneer with the development of online education.

1998 LEAP Graduates




In 2006, Dr. Henry Smith began his presidency and founded both Wesley Seminary, the only seminary of The Wesleyan Church, and the School of Health Sciences.

2013 Seminary Dedication




Completing the 100-year history, Dr. David Wright became president in 2013. His global ministry experience has motivated new programs in other countries and languages. Programs in Zambia and Haiti, and students in China, Indonesia, Columbia and elsewhere give Indiana Wesleyan University a global presence and influence.

2015 Zambia Study Abroad Nursing Students


IWU National & Global Graduate


In 2020, IWU celebrated a century of service with over 90,000 graduates and a commitment to keep the promises of its founders from 1920: to pursue academic excellence and keep Christ at the center of its mission.