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A New Higher Education Collaboration Possible in SE Iowa

Jul 23, 2020

A private university and a public community college in southeast Iowa are exploring new ways to collaborate. Iowa Wesleyan University and Southeastern Community College are working out details on a contract for managed services.

“We are all very excited about this possibility. We think it’s a good thing for our region. We think it’s a good thing for educational opportunities for students and for families in this region,” said SCC President Michael Ash during an interview with TSPR.

Background

Iowa Wesleyan University was founded in Mount Pleasant in 1842. The small liberal arts school has struggled with its finances in recent years. Trustees in 2018 talked about closing the school before donations poured in to help it remain open in the short term.

Wesleyan then issued a Request for Proposals (RFP) for possible collaborations, and out of that process chose to work St. Leo University in Florida. But after those talks failed to produce an agreement, Wesleyan contacted SCC, which is based in West Burlington. SCC had also submitted an RFP, and the two schools began talks late last year.

The Possible Plan

The plan remains a work in progress and Ash said it could still fall through. But the schools have signed a memorandum of understanding to explore what they are calling a strategic partnership.

“The principles are that both institutions will remain the same. They will be their own entity. They will have their own board,” he said.

But the plan would have SCC’s administrative team oversee Wesleyan. By sharing administrators, both institutions would reduce overhead and save money.

Ash said Wesleyan would continue to have a campus administrator, who would report to the SCC president.

One key will be ensuring no one burn out from taking on too many responsibilities between the two campuses. Ash said his team already has plenty to do at SCC.

“We’re not going to be spending days and days and weeks and months over there doing this, that, or the other. We’re going to be giving oversight and we‘re going to define what that means,” Ash said.

“Essentially Iowa Wesleyan would be buying some of my administrative team’s time. We’re just looking for ways that we can flow together and help each other and benefit both institutions and the whole region.”

Ash said no one will lose their job. He said Wesleyan President Christine Plunkett, who is also serving as the school’s chief financial officer, plans to retire.

Thumbs Up So Far

In a news release, Plunkett praised the possible collaboration. “We are thrilled to be moving toward a partnership with Southeastern Community College, and I look forward to the tremendous opportunity it will provide to our students and our community,” she said.

Ash is also optimistic. “This has been a journey but we’re excited about where we are and we’re very hopeful that we can make something very positive work in this situation,” he said.

Ash said both schools are important to the region’s economy. He said the two combined have about a $200 million economic impact.

This story was produced by Tri States Public Radio.  TSPR relies on financial support from our readers and listeners in order to provide coverage of the issues that matter to west central Illinois, southeast Iowa, and northeast Missouri. As someone who values the content created by TSPR's news department please consider making a financial contribution.