Higher education

Iowa's Catholic colleges unite in new partnership

Collaboration aimed at addressing challenges in higher education

Laurie Hamen
Laurie Hamen

For the first time since their founding — which for Loras College dates back to 1839 — Iowa’s six private Catholic colleges have formed a collegiate association aimed at finding new ways to collaborate and address “the ever-changing issues facing private colleges and universities.”

The Iowa Catholic Collegiate Association, which was announced Friday, includes Loras in Dubuque, Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Mercy College of Health Sciences in Des Moines, Briar Cliff University in Sioux City, Clark University in Dubuque and St. Ambrose University in Davenport.

Details about what the collaboration might involve are forthcoming, and Mount Mercy President Laurie Hamen said the partnership could evolve over time to include more and different projects. But, she said, the institution heads wanted first to make it official by going public.

“We have never really been competitors in the fierce sense of the word,” Hamen said. “But we wanted to make it clear we’re going to collaborate with one another. In the higher education marketplace of today, we think that collaboration within institutions can be a very successful way of operating.”

Friday’s announcement comes as higher education institutions across the state and nation are facing more complex challenges in the form of rising costs, changing demographics, funding declines and a shift in the public perception around value, according to a statement of purpose for the collaboration.

This has become especially true for small, independent colleges “that lack the economies of scale and scope to influence and negotiate their tumultuous contexts. Rather than going it alone, institutions working in collective groups can significantly enhance their capacity to effectively confront their uncertain and dynamic industry and operating environments,” according to the statement.

Informal conversations among the institutions began a year ago and are progressing toward functional plans and partnerships.


“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.”

Hamen said examples of collaboration might include joining together for contracts for basic services, teaming up for training opportunities, cooperating on administrative functions and even joining forces in study abroad and service projects.

“We think that’s what students of all types and their parents want — for us to advance our mission and do it in the most cost-effective way,” Hamen said.

The collaboration won’t immediately involve course-sharing or other student-specific services, although Hamen said, “The sky is the limit.”

“But there are small ways to start,” she said. “And that’s where we’ll start.”

Although each of the institutions involved in the collaboration have distinct and unique programming and features, they are united in their Catholic identity.

“Iowa’s Catholic colleges and universities have a shared desire to ensure Catholic higher education continues to provide students with collegiate experiences that promote the integration of faith and reason,” according to a statement of purpose for the collaboration.

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