Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Higher Education Working Together to Help Catholic Schools: The Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium

Academic journal article Journal of Catholic Education

Higher Education Working Together to Help Catholic Schools: The Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium

Article excerpt

Across the nation, numerous Catholic schools have struggled to exist, let alone thrive. In the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, one in every five schools has closed its doors over the past 15 years. As academics who work in the five Catholic institutions of higher education (CIHE) in the greater Milwaukee area, we have witnessed and lamented these struggles over the years. Each of our colleges and universities has tried, in its own way, to help when called upon, but the breadth and depth of the challenges facing urban Catholic schools has continued to outstrip our individual institutions' ability to contend with them. The issues were systemic and intractable in nature, and none of us had the singular capacity to make differences that were far reaching enough.

Eventually, we concluded that helping our local P-12 Catholic schools, at scale, would require working together in a unified, coordinated, and selfless manner. That conclusion gave rise to a new model of collaboration, now known as the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium (GMCEC). The model is described here along with its early history. We see this recounting as a fitting addition to this focus section of the Journal, one which summarizes the Catholic Higher Education Collaborative's (CHEC) 2012 conference on Catholic school governance. The GMCEC served as the event's host and the Consortium's model was shared in a key panel discussion. Our partnership not only assists Catholic schools with governance, but also represents a unique form of multi-institutional governance in its own right.

Responding to a Call to Action

The trials and tribulations faced in Milwaukee will sound all too familiar to anyone who knows the K-12 Catholic education sector, particularly in urban and rural areas. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, in its 2005 pastoral statement, Renewing Our Commitment to Catholic Elementary and Secondary Schools in the Third Millennium, described current trends in Catholic education that threaten its future. Numbered among these obstacles are declining enrollments and sharply rising tuition. But the difficulties hardly stop there. Attempts to prevent school closings, and to facilitate mergers and consolidations, have occurred in urban and Catholic schools in Milwaukee and elsewhere. The mergers are often unsuccessful. Moreover, Catholic schools reflect a shifting student demographic that is frequently not Catholic and is increasingly diverse.

Compounding the challenges, there have been reverberations that academic quality has diminished. This concern is obviously a serious one, because even devout families will hesitate or wholly refrain from sending their children to Catholic schools whose records of advancing student achievement are suspect. Equally important, the escalating shortage of vowed religious professionals on staff , which has endangered school sustainability by driving up labor costs for several years, has jeopardized even more so the tradition of faith development assured by their clerical presence. Regrettably, the combination of these issues has resulted in a significant downward spiral, where the very real peril exists that only select, non-diverse, and affluent parish-operated Catholic schools will survive. Clearly, the schools of the Archdiocese of Milwaukee are not immune to these trends, as many of them remain decidedly at risk.

The pastoral statement of the Bishops also included a specific appeal to Catholic colleges and universities to address problems like those described above. To formulate a local response, our Catholic institutions of higher education (CIHE) in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee (Alverno College, Cardinal Stritch University, Marian University, Marquette University, and Mount Mary College) came together to form the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium (GMCEC). The purpose of the partnership was to marshal the academic resources and professional expertise of the region's CIHEs to build enduring connections that strengthen and sustain quality Catholic education. …

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