According to the U.S. Census Bureau, only one-third of adults attain a four-year degree, despite the benefits of increased employment and income. To help change this, particularly for those from diverse and economically disadvantaged backgrounds, the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees today voted to establish a first-of-its-kind two-year college in Minnesota on its Minneapolis campus.
The Dougherty Family College, named after lead benefactors Mike and Kathy Dougherty, is intended to be a first step toward a four-year degree and will provide intensive, wrap-around education services designed to accommodate promising students who may not succeed at existing higher education offerings in the community.
Starting in the fall of 2017, the college will offer students an Associate of Arts degree in liberal arts, with courses that meet Minnesota Transfer Curriculum guidelines, which will allow graduates to have a seamless transition to public as well as private four-year institutions in Minnesota. The college plans to admit about 150 students to its inaugural college class, and St. Thomas is now applying for approval from the Higher Learning Commission to offer the Associate of Arts degree. Upon receiving this approval, the college will begin accepting applications.
The Dougherty Family College is designed to help ensure the success of low-income students who may be the first in their family to attend college, or those who lack the academic support, academic mentors or financial means to pursue a four-year degree.
“We are determined to reduce the educational attainment gap in Minnesota and prepare students to become transformational leaders in our communities, state and nation,” said Julie Sullivan, president of the University of St. Thomas. “It is our mission to develop and be morally responsible leaders, who work to advance the common good, and the inspiration for the Dougherty Family College came from within our school and from our generous, community-minded donors.”
The annual tuition will be offset by state and local grants, scholarships and corporate support, bringing final tuition costs to just $1,000 a year for the most under-resourced students.
To date, the University of St. Thomas has raised $18 million in private donations for the new college, including a founding gift from the family of the college namesakes: Mike and Kathy Dougherty. The college aims to raise additional funds over the next several years to sustain itself.
Mike Dougherty was orphaned at an early age and became a self-described sad and angry young man. He was expelled from Creighton University after one semester and was drafted into the army during the Cuban missile crisis. That experience helped him to turn his life around. St. Thomas agreed to give him a second chance and he completed his degree there. In 1977 he founded his own financial services firm. In 2003 he received the Horatio Alger Association Award in recognition of his success in the face of adversity. Mike and Kathy are active members of the Twin Cities community, and Mike has served as a St. Thomas trustee since 2003.
Sullivan added that the plan for the school is modeled on Arrupe College at Loyola University Chicago, which also offers a two-year degree to a diverse student body from underserved communities.
“This is intended to be a pathway to, and develop the skills that students need to attain, a four-year degree.” Sullivan said. “In the Twin Cities, the median yearly income of adults with a bachelor’s degree is $22,332 more than that of adults with only a high-school diploma. Many capable Twin Cities high school students lack the academic experience or social support necessary to initially succeed in a four-year degree program. The Dougherty Family College is designed to address those deficits and help motivated students overcome other barriers to access, such as family income and high school grades.”
The college will follow a holistic and competitive admissions process. Students will not be required to take the ACT to be admitted, but will need a 2.5 or higher grade point average and must have a high level of financial need (e.g., meeting the eligibility requirements for federal Pell Grants and/or state grants). In addition, students must participate in a qualifying interview to determine their readiness and motivation. Classes will be held four days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Structured and intensive mentoring, a directed curriculum, generous financial aid and small class sizes will help prepare students to succeed in their first two years of college and prepare them to matriculate in a four-year program with minimal student debt. St. Thomas will also connect its two-year college students with paid internships through collaboration with regional employers. “These internships will offer valuable, hands-on work experience that will help our students develop professional and life skills,” said Pat Ryan, Chair of the University of St. Thomas Board of Trustees, and an early advocate for making a connection between the school and the business community.
Students will take a core curriculum of liberal arts classes, which will meet the academic standards of the University of St. Thomas four-year program but will be delivered in a different way. Each student will attend classes with the same group of 25 students throughout the two-year program. They will take a first-year experience seminar focusing on study skills, time management, financial and information literacy, preparatory skills for conducting research and professional development etiquette. In addition, students will participate in leadership development advisory groups to hone their critical thinking and leadership skills.
“A college degree is one of the best ways to beat poverty,” said Dougherty. “My wife, daughters and I want to give motivated, hard-working students the opportunity to succeed in college so they can use their talents and support themselves in the future. One day, I believe these students will be giving back to our community. But for now, this is a way for our family to give back to the community that has been so good to us.”