Some 2-year Colleges Test-driving New Model - Higher Education
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Some 2-year Colleges Test-driving New Model

by Catherine Morris

This fall, Minnesota’s University of St. Thomas will open the doors to Dougherty Family College in Minneapolis, a two-year college within the university. Dougherty will welcome students from underserved communities in the Twin Cities area who might not otherwise have the chance to attend a four-year school.

In some respects, Dougherty Family College resembles a community college. Students will obtain an associate’s degree, and the school will be funded by an $18 million endowment, keeping tuition costs low. Yet in many other ways, it will not be the standard community college.

After earning an associate’s degree, students will be eligible to continue on to St. Thomas or transfer to another four-year institution. That mission of providing a pathway for students from underserved communities to obtain a bachelor’s degree is central to Dougherty’s foundational goals.

“One of the number one differentiators is that when we enroll a student, we enroll a student who is eager to complete a four-year degree,” said Alvin Abraham, founding dean of the college. “Not that other schools don’t, but that is our fundamental mission.”

Alvin Abraham is the founding dean of Dougherty Family College.

To allow students to flourish, the school will remain small and offer intensive academic support. St. Thomas officials expect that the college will serve 300 students when it is at full capacity. Students will take classes in cohorts of 25, benefitting from wrap-around mentoring and advising services.

“Our small model allows for us to have a lot of the supports students may need to be really successful academically,” Abraham said.

Abraham comes to St. Thomas by way of KIPP Minnesota, where he was executive director and helped initiate the KIPP Through College for Minnesota program, which guides KIPP alumni through high school and on through the college selection process.

“At KIPP, we believe that education is one of the keys to leveling the playing field specifically for kids growing up in educationally underserved communities which generally happen to be low-income communities and generally also happen to be full of students who are minorities,” Abraham said. “That’s especially the case here in the Twin Cities.”

In the last 20 years, the numbers of African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanics and Asians in Minnesota have doubled. At the same time, economic disparities between White Minnesotans and the state’s residents of color have also deepened, such that in 2016 the income of families of color was about half that of their White counterparts, according to data from the U.S. Census.

“We want to play a role in closing those gaps, from a mission point of view,” said Dr. Julie Sullivan, St. Thomas president.

Sullivan joined St. Thomas in 2013 and from the start has sought to help address some of the educational gaps that exist in the surrounding community.

Once admitted, students who are fully Pell eligible will pay a maximum of $1,000 to attend the college annually. All students will live at home as commuter students to help keep costs down, and will also receive a free transit pass and computer.

“Our intent is that they leave these two years with little to no debt,” Sullivan said. “We felt that [having] them paying something was important, for lack of a better term I’ll use the colloquial term ‘skin in the game,’ but really to signal their commitment.”

In addition to their academic coursework, students will also work with corporate partners in the local community on Wednesdays and on school breaks.

“Part of that work program is clearly so they can earn a little money to pay living expenses and their $1,000 tuition, but mainly it is going to be integrated into our development of them as a whole person,” Sullivan said. “We want them to be involved in professional settings, learn leadership skills, accountability, have mentors in the workforce — all the things that happen when you’re employed in a professional setting.”

Dougherty Family College, while novel, is not the first of its kind. It is modeled after Arrupe College, a two-year school within Loyola University Chicago.

Arrupe opened its doors to its first class of students in fall 2015 under the guidance of dean and executive director Stephen Katsouros, S.J. Today, it serves 400 students, 20 percent of whom are undocumented immigrants.

Now in its second year, the first cohort of students will graduate on July 27. That first class saw a retention rate of 82 percent. Katsouros expects that the overall graduation rate will be 75 percent. By comparison, the average graduation rate is 13 percent at the seven City Colleges of Chicago, according Education Department College Scorecard data.

Like Dougherty, Arrupe is designed to be affordable. Tuition is nominally $15,000, but students are responsible for only $1,200 once Pell grants and Illinois’ MAP grant funds kick in. The TheDream.US, a national organization that provides scholarships to undocumented immigrants, is helping fund the educations of Arrupe’s undocumented students, who are not eligible for federal and state aid.

Arrupe College, in turn, is modeled after the Cristo Rey Network, a Chicago-based association of urban Jesuit schools that contract with companies to employ students once a week. The organization started out of one middle school in the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1970s, and subsequently spread to high schools across the country.

Dougherty and Arrupe could be the “next wave” in Jesuit education, according to Katsouros. “I’m hoping that some of the 27 other Jesuit colleges and universities in the United States will pick up on this model,” Katsouros said.

Reflecting on the first two years of Arrupe’s existence, Katsouros said that it will be important to examine what comes next for the students who graduate. Tuition and fees alone at Loyola are over $40,000, and the school cannot absorb that expense for the hundreds of Arrupe students who can be expected to graduate going forward each year.

“It’s only a two-year deal, not a four-year deal, and that’s something we have to learn how to absorb and communicate to our students,” Katsouros said.

Like Dougherty, Arrupe is not a residential college. In part, this helps keep costs down, but it also leaves students vulnerable to challenging domestic situations. “I would say all of our students are very much affected by the gun and gang violence that is so pervasive in Chicago right now,” Katsouros said. The majority are also impacted by food and housing insecurity, and immigrants run the risk of deportation or other legal challenges.

St. Thomas opened up the admissions application to Dougherty in May after getting the go-ahead from the Higher Learning Commission.

“We’re scrambling a bit right now because we’re late in the admissions cycle, but we are in the process of admitting students every day,” Sullivan said. “It’s all in process right now.”

Staff writer Catherine Morris can be reached at cmorris@diverseeducation.com.

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