By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
Iowa’s six Catholic universities and colleges, hoping to keep Iowa Catholic higher education strong and vibrant, have formed the Iowa Catholic Collegiate Association. The six are St. Ambrose University, Davenport; Briar Cliff University, Sioux City; Clarke University and Loras College, Dubuque; Mount Mercy University, Cedar Rapids; and Mercy College of Health Sciences, Des Moines.
The partners are in the early stages of statewide collaboration, so specific initiatives are still under discussion. They will meet again this month to continue exploring innovative ways to address ever-changing issues facing private colleges and universities. Mount Mercy University hosted the first meeting on collaboration, but it really is a group effort, said Mount Mercy University President Laurie Hamen.
While the universities and colleges are part of a national organization (the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities), Hamen said that “on an Iowa scale we thought it would be helpful to collaborate … to work together at a different level than we’ve ever worked before.”
Cabinet-level representatives of each college and university are asking, “What can these six institutions do together that would enable us to thrive?” said Sister Joan Lescinski, CSJ, president of St. Ambrose University. The overarching goal is to ensure that Catholic higher education continues to provide students with collegiate experiences that promote the integration of faith and reason, she continued.
Among the pressing issues to address are escalating costs, changing demographics, decreased public funding and a change in public perception about the value of higher education, Sr. Lescinski said. “We know there is a population shift going on in the country. As a result, there are fewer people in the Midwest area and therefore fewer students of any age to recruit.… The same number of colleges and universities in the Midwest are going after a smaller pool of Midwest students. That’s true for higher education in general,” she added.
The collegiate association will explore possible joint ventures to contain costs, enhance effectiveness and improve competitiveness, such as joint purchases of office supplies and equipment (computers, for example) and insurance. The partners are exploring other ways to achieve economies of scale. Examples might include library online resources, and offering a specialized major on site at one school to be shared via video format with the other schools.
No decisions have been made concerning these examples, Sr. Lescinski emphasized. “We share a common mission in Catholic higher education that includes the Catholic intellectual tradition and Catholic social teaching. We want to see that mission thrive. That’s the reason we’re having these conversations.”
“This innovative approach will lay a foundation for the contemporary strategies that our students and parents expect,” Hamen said. “Working collectively we enhance our unique position even as we face challenging times in higher education.”