Partnerships help private universities expand offerings



When Marquette University unveiled plans earlier this year to build the state-of-the-art Athletic Performance Research Center in partnership with Aurora Health Care, it marked the continuation of a trend among colleges and universities to seek out collaborators for their building and educational projects. For private post-secondary institutions, the need for this kind of collaboration has never been greater as they grapple to offer high quality education at affordable prices.

Unlike state-run universities and colleges, private schools do not receive any funding from Wisconsin taxpayers. That makes finding other revenue streams beyond student tuition even more essential.

For Marquette, working with Aurora on the new project was a natural fit, said Lora Strigens, chief architect for the Milwaukee university.

“We had a unique opportunity to find land to acquire, which is rare when you’re an urban campus,” she said. “This will be a facility like no other, and this is the first partnership of its kind in the nation.”

In addition to Marquette and Aurora, the Milwaukee Bucks are also involved. The center is expected to range in size between 250,000 and 300,000 square feet and cost an estimated $120 million, with Aurora investing $40 million and the remainder coming through fundraising initiatives. When complete, it will cover four city blocks and redefine a vacant corridor near the Marquette Interchange.

“Our goal is to break ground in 2017 and finish about the same time as the Bucks’ new arena,” Strigens said. “These two projects will help redefine an area of Milwaukee’s downtown.”

Marquette president Michael Lovell announced his plan last year to build the center, which will serve as a national destination for scientific research into human performance. With Aurora now a partner, researchers with the health care system and Marquette can focus on exercise physiology, athletic training, biomedical engineering, nutrition and rehabilitation.

“The center will help with faculty recruitment and also serves as a sign of our commitment to the community, since it will have a notable presence,” Strigens said. “Our students and student athletes will also benefit from its health and wellness initiatives.”

While Marquette is just beginning this particular collaboration with Aurora, St. Norbert College in De Pere is already reaping the fruits of its partnership with the Medical College of Wisconsin in Wauwatosa.

In 2012, the Medical College announced plans to expand its presence in the state by opening two satellite campuses that would allow students to earn their medical degrees in three years instead of four. After viewing different options, college leaders selected the Green Bay and Wausau markets. In Green Bay, the program is mainly housed at the Gehl-Mulva Science Center on the St. Norbert campus. The first medical students arrived on campus last summer.


Jeffrey Frick, dean of the college and academic vice president at St. Norbert, said Green Bay area residents benefit from the partnership.

“The community will benefit from having a cadre of well-trained primary care physicians who are likely to remain in the area. One of the driving forces of this approach to medical education is to help supply underserved areas with primary care physicians,” he said.

In 2015, the college completed a $39 million renovation and expansion of the Gehl-Mulva Science Center. The 160,000-square-foot building includes 45 state-of-the-art teaching and research labs, 10 classrooms, one large lecture hall, study rooms for students and faculty offices.

“St. Norbert College benefits in a number of ways (from the partnership). Our undergraduate students have the experience of interacting directly with the students from the Medical College, both informally and in more formal programs that are currently under development,” Frick said. “Some of our science faculty have also had the opportunity to teach in the program. Not only has this given them an inside look at what medical education looks like today, but they have found the experience energizing.”

St. Norbert has seen an increase in enrollment of students interested in studying science, Frick said. That is likely related to both the new science space and the partnership with the Medical College.

Strigens said Marquette officials are optimistic the new Athletic Performance Research Center will draw more students as well. “We really want to increase our research, and the center focuses on health sciences and engineering, which are our fastest-growing areas.”

Marquette and Aurora, which runs the neighboring Sinai Medical Center, have worked together previously on other initiatives, such as providing student training opportunities and trying to revitalize the area as a residential and business corridor, Strigens said.

The involvement of the Milwaukee Bucks came about based on conversations between the team’s owners and Lovell; the final role is still being worked out. Currently, the Bucks and Marquette both play at the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Frick said partnerships are necessary in higher education and more are likely to come.

“As institutions pay greater attention to cost containment and the recognition that they will not be able to be all things to all people, the idea of forming partnerships to accomplish mutual goals looms large on the horizon,” he said.

It took multiple organizations – educational and health-related – to make the Medical College of Wisconsin campus a reality in northeast Wisconsin, Frick said. Educational partners Bellin College, Northeast Wisconsin Technical College and University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and clinical partners Bellin Health, the Hospital Sisters Health System Eastern Division, Prevea Health and the U.S. Department for Veteran Affairs Milo C. Huempfner Outpatient Clinic all played a role.

St. Norbert already has partnerships in place with other colleges and universities including Marquette, Frick said. The De Pere college has a relationship with Bellin College in Green Bay that allows students to attend St. Norbert for two years and then complete their nursing degree at Bellin, and another one in place with Marquette involving economics.

“We are currently exploring partnership opportunities in the areas of law and engineering, and others are likely to materialize in the future,” Frick said.

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