University launches a 2-year, $2,000 degree

Officials: Program prepares underserved students to transfer to four-year colleges

The University of St. Thomas plans to open its Dougherty Family College in the fall of 2017, offering two-year associate degrees to up to 150 low-income students for as low as $1,000 per year.

The Dougherty Family College aims to offer a pathway for underserved students who might not have the grades or financial means to attend a four-year institution.

The students who apply to the Dougherty Family College would not be required to submit test scores or show a GPA above 2.5—which applicants to St. Thomas' four-year college are required to do. 

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Instead, Dougherty applicants would need to show promising personality traits through interviews with school officials, such as:

  • Resilience;
  • Readiness;
  • Motivation; and
  • Perseverance.

The full cost of the Dougherty Family College tuition would be $15,000 annually, as opposed to the $39,600 for St. Thomas' four-year program. With grants and scholarships—for which these low-income students would likely qualify—the cost would drop to as low as $1,000 annually for some students.

But financial aid isn't the only help students will receive, officials say. Dougherty students will follow a more structured curriculum than other St. Thomas students. They'll attend separate classes where instructors aim for "culturally responsive" education that connects lessons to students' backgrounds, according to Associate Dean Buffy Smith. In addition to special coursework, students will also receive "wraparound" services such as tutoring and mentoring.

Education Dive's Jarrett Carter argues that St. Thomas' new program is a strong pipeline to financial success for students, and points out other schools that have established similar programs, including:

  • Loyola University Chicago;
  • Southern University System; and
  • University of the District of Columbia.

"As campuses become more tuition dependent, the ability to foster relationships from high school through to college graduation, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds, will be an essential element of success," Carter writes.

St. Thomas is still awaiting approval from the Higher Learning Commission for the new college, and plans to accept applicants once the approval process is complete in three to nine months (Lerner, Minneapolis Star Tribune, 11/17; Carter, Education Dive, 11/22).

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