Editorial: Mount Mercy’s unique partnership with St. Ambrose

Mount mercy

It has been reported frequently in the media that the higher education business model is being challenged and that not a lot of innovation is occurring. 

There was even a book published in 2023 by Brian Rosenberg, the former president of Macalester College, called “WHATEVER IT IS, I’M AGAINST IT: Resistance to Change in Higher Education.”

Mr. Rosenberg wrote in a Sept. 19, 2023 Harvard Business Review article that an unsustainable financial model, a shrinking market of students, an obstinate faculty and a lack of public confidence pose an existential threat to higher education.

To be clear, we haven’t seen a lot of innovation occurring in higher education either, except for the forced transition to allowing students a virtual learning option due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Purdue University’s remarkable 13 years of keeping tuition frozen without negatively impacting its enrollment numbers.

But a recent collaboration between Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids and St. Ambrose University in Davenport has us intrigued that innovation might be coming after all.

Those two institutions of higher education are in talks to eventually merge both universities in what the schools are calling an “innovative strategic combination” after an open discussion with the presidents from both institutions, as reported in the QCBJ.

St. Ambrose University’s roots go back to 1882. The school has more than 2,100 undergraduate students. Mount Mercy University was founded in 1928. It has more than 1,500 students enrolled.

While that strategic combination deal is in the works, the universities have agreed to an immediate and separate plan that will allow students from both schools to take courses from either university beginning this fall.

If the plan comes together, both university campuses would remain open with two separate academic programs and separate athletic programs, said Amy Novak, the president of St. Ambrose.

“We have seen great collaboration between our two universities in recent years,” Mount Mercy University President Todd Olson said in a news release. “We both strongly value our students, our communities, and our missions, and have seen the results that can come from expanding opportunities with other like-minded institutions. We must remain innovative in the current higher education landscape and be proactive in our learner-centered approaches, rather than waiting to see what happens.”

We couldn’t agree more.

But it will take a lot of hard work for these changes to come to fruition and not be just superficial. And it’s not certain that the alumni or faculty will get behind these changes.

Nevertheless, we applaud Mr. Olson and Ms. Novak for demonstrating strong leadership and initiating this collaboration. We hope that this is just the beginning of much-needed innovation in higher education in the region and beyond.