Arrupe College: The New Face of Jesuit Higher Ed

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,” Thomas recalls. “Don’t you get the notification today?” she asked. Indeed, he did. Thomas called his mother back to share the good news. “She screamed for joy,” he says. But Thomas asked why his acceptance to Arrupe College was so important to her when he had also been accepted to other schools. 

Jesuit Fr. Stephen Katsouros, dean and executive director of Arrupe College, with a student on the first day of class

“I just like that school,” Thomas’ mother told him. Thomas understood why: Classes are small, and teachers know their students by name. They also serve as student advisers and “would always have their door open to us,” Thomas says. Most attractive of all was the opportunity to earn an associate degree without incurring financial debt. 

Arrupe College is a junior college that is an extension of Loyola University Chicago. It was created expressly to address the lack of accessible higher education for low-income families. Arrupe’s founder, Jesuit Fr. 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. His concern was that the successful growth of Jesuit universities had created an elitist reputation. 

Fr. Michael Garanzini, SJ, speaks at the blessing ceremony for Arrupe College, which was also attended by Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Cook County State's Attorney Anita Alvarez, and Archbishop Blase J. Cupich.

Father Garanzini designed Arrupe as part of a long-range plan to implement change, with the university absorbing the costs. He ran the proposal past administrators of various Chicago high schools, where it “was met with great excitement,” says Jesuit Fr. Stephen Katsouros, the college’s dean and executive director. 

Students do group work in a philosophy class.

The school, with an eye toward students of limited financial means, would offer a two-year associate degree. 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.

“If they’re off, they’re less likely to come back,” Fr. Katsouros says. Class sizes would be small, with fewer than 30 students, to eliminate disconnect between the students and faculty.  

Arrupe College students work on a group project in a Digital Media Lab course. 

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 expenses. 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. Here, Arrupe’s classrooms, study halls, and offices could be housed in one place.

Arrupe College students gather in Maguire Hall during the first day of classes.

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. 

Focused on Student Success

The other key component was addressing the question: How to 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. 

Arrupe students welcome Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to the college's blessing ceremony.

Recognizing that many Arrupe students face more roadblocks to success in terms of their personal lives — they might be helping support their families or facing a daunting commute to campus — this education model is tasked with addressing the whole person.

The fledgling school’s commitment to evolving methods of cultivating a climate of success is critical. Yolanda Golden, Arrupe’s associate dean of student success, ponders that every day. She oversees the college’s career counseling strategy, keeping students academically and socially on course. This formally began in July 2015, the month before Arrupe classes were in session, with a three-week Summer Enrichment Program, which is mandatory for all students. 

Arrupe College student Edquitta Alexander works on a project in a Digital Media Lab course as part of the Summer Enrichment Program.

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 — such as a ropes course — that enable them to start building friendships with each other. The program is not just social. Students take courses in digital media and math and a workshop designed to help decision-making with regard to majors and career choices. 

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.

Arrupe College students socialize at a tree trimming celebration in Maguire Hall.

Offering Hope

The challenges faced by Arrupe students should not define them, says Golden. It is one of the reasons for Arrupe’s intensive support system. “They’re gifted. We have students raising children, helping contribute to their family households, and still going to classes four days a week and maintaining their grades,” says Golden. “If that’s not dedication, I don’t know what is.” 

Arrupe College student Asya Meadows takes notes during Introduction to Christian Theology. 

Students appreciate the net of professional support that is also just a classroom away in Maguire Hall. English professor Daniel Burke was attracted to Arrupe’s teacher-adviser model. Burke, who teaches writing and composition, is not alone. “No one made it onto the faculty who wasn’t heavily, emotionally committed to the methodology,” he says. 

Professor Daniel Burke teaches a writing and composition course to students on the first day of class.

At Arrupe, no one downplays the importance of a dedicated student mentor. When a student was losing ground in a first-semester statistics course and in danger of failing, the faculty “pulled together to help this student succeed,” says Jennifer Wozniak Boyle, associate dean for academic affairs. The staff worked as a team, and the student pulled his weight to earn a C grade. “It’s a ‘startup’ so we’re doing everything, but that’s exciting,” she says. 

Language is another issue the faculty has to consider. For more than 100 Arrupe students, English is not the first language spoken at home. Spanish is the majority for non-English speakers, but Polish and Russian are also in the mix. 

Professor B. Minerva Ahumada works with students in her Philosophy and Persons class.

B. Minerva Ahumada understands this scenario quite well. When the Arrupe philosophy lecturer came to the United States from her native Mexico to work on a master’s degree in philosophy, she didn’t have a mastery of English. Now with some ESL students in her classes, she says, “I identify with them a lot.” The language issue helps her “understand how to be a companion to the students inside and outside the classroom.”

“We’re not reinventing the wheel,” Burke says of his and his colleagues’ teaching styles. But Arrupe is about reinvention. When other models are not working, try something new. It is a new idea in the Jesuit spirit of education and social justice.

Fr. Katsouros presents an award to a student during Arrupe's first convocation in January 2016. 

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.

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