The world’s first Jesuit community college is in its second year.
By Ann Christenson
No one was more excited to receive an acceptance letter to Arrupe College in Chicago than the mother of Jontae Thomas.
“She called me and said I should receive the notification today,” Jontae recalled. When the envelope arrived, he called his mother back to share the good news. “She screamed for joy,” he said.
“I just like that school,” Jontae’s mother told him. Jontae understood why: Classes are small, and the teachers know their students by name. They also serve as student advisers and “would always have their door open to us,” Jontae says. Most attractive of all was the opportunity to earn an associate degree without incurring financial debt.
Arrupe College is a junior college that’s an extension of Loyola University Chicago and was created expressly to address the lack of accessible higher education for low-income families. Arrupe’s founder, Jesuit Father Michael Garanzini, former president and current chancellor of Loyola Chicago, hatched the idea as a timely, necessary way to improve the college’s graduation rates of students from challenged economic backgrounds. Father Stephen Katsouros, SJ, a USA Northeast Province Jesuit, and former president of Loyola School in New York City, serves as the college’s dean and executive director.
Fr. Garanzini designed Arrupe as part of a long-range plan to offer affordable education to students with limited financial means, with the university absorbing the costs. He ran the proposal past administrators of various Chicago high schools, where “it was met with great excitement,” said Fr. Katsouros.
Students would attend classes 40 weeks out of the year, three to four days per week, and each class would be eight weeks in duration, followed by a two-week break. The ongoing nature of classes without an extended summer break would help keep students engaged. Class sizes would be small, with fewer than 30 students, to eliminate disconnect between the students and faculty.
The goal is for students to graduate with little or no debt. They could live at home, commute to school and be encouraged to work part-time jobs to offset tuition costs and personal ex - penses. Students are required to apply for federal student aid and are expected to receive other aid and grants, which brings the per-year tuition cost down to approximately $2,000 per year. Integral to the creation of Arrupe was an available building, Maguire Hall, at Loyola’s downtown campus.
The interest in Arrupe College was immediate and strong, according to Fr. Katsouros. The school’s first-year class had 159 students, and 131 returned for their second year of college this past fall, along with a new incoming freshman class of 187 students.
Bringing faculty on board was not a burden either, thanks to the model’s focus on teaching and advising. Each faculty member serves as an adviser to 20 students and sets aside at least 10 hours a week for office hours. “All [faculty] are really turned on by this program,” Fr. Katsouros says.
The other key component was addressing the question: How can we help these students flourish? The answer was to build a strong support network of professionals—six full-time faculty, as well as a licensed social worker, two associate deans and a career coordinator.
Recognizing that many Arrupe students face more roadblocks to success in terms of their personal lives, this education model is tasked with addressing the whole person.
Arrupe College Professor B. Minerva Ahumada works with students in her Philosophy and Persons class.
Besides a time to register for classes, meet the faculty and learn how to maneuver through the hurdles of financial aid, the summer program includes a two-day retreat where students participate in team-building activities that enable them to start building friendships with each other.
The credits earned in Arrupe’s two-year program award students with an associate degree in arts and humanities, business, or social and behavioral sciences. Those credits are transferable to more than 100 four-year Illinois universities. “I think it’s going to be a game-changer in higher ed,” says Fr. Katsouros.
This is an edited version of an article that appeared in the February 2016 issue of U.S. Catholic. All photos courtesy of Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago. Copyright 2016 Claretian Publications. Reprinted by permission from the March 2017 issue of U.S. Catholic magazine, www.uscatholic.org.