Loyola’s Arrupe College graduates first class of students

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago graduates high-five faculty during its inaugural commencement ceremony in the Mundelein Center for the Fine and Performing Arts on Aug. 12. Rob Hart/Loyola University Chicago

Abigail Bautista had options when it came time for college.

Bautista, a 2015 graduate of Queen of Peace High School in Burbank, was offered nearly a full scholarship to attend Saint Xavier University. But she also got enough financial aid to cover most of her expenses at Arrupe College, then a brand-new two-year college that is part of Loyola University Chicago.
She chose Arrupe, and is glad she did.

“I liked the support that they have, and the location,” said Bautista, who lives in the Little Village neighborhood. “It was easy to get to, and you could use all of Loyola’s facilities.”

The college promises an associate’s degree for students who completed the program, with credits that transfer to any four-year college or university in Illinois, with little to no educational debt. It is designed specifically for commuter students coming from families with limited financial resources. Nearly all of them are people of color.

While the options for classes and majors are limited, it operates on a schedule designed to keep its students on campus, at the corner of State and Pearson streets, most days.

“All of us desire to be in communities, and I think that’s forgotten in most community college settings,” Jesuit Father Stephen Katsouros, Arrupe College’s dean and executive director, said. “Our students desire that like all students.”

He knew it was working when he would stay late to work in his office and see students staying late as well, participating in study groups, doing group projects or just socializing. 

“There was a lot of community here,” Katsouros said. “Students built great relationships between and among themselves, with faculty and staff and with the greater Loyola community.

Bautista was one of 82 students to participate in Arrupe College’s first graduation ceremony on Aug. 12. Overall, 52 percent of the 159 students who started as the inaugural class of Arrupe College received their associate’s degree this summer; only 5 percent of full-time two-year college students in the United States complete their degrees in two years, according to Complete College America, a not-for-profit working to boost college completion rates.

Bautista is joining Loyola University’s four-year program this fall to study psychology with a minor in criminal justice, once again with enough scholarships and financial aid to cover nearly all of her costs.

She will be joined at Loyola University by Brandon Thomas, a graduate of Christ the King College Prep in the Austin neighborhood. Thomas will major in history, with plans to teach at the college level, and minor in information technology.

He got experience for that minor through his work-study job at Arrupe College.

“I really liked my classes,” he said. “And my friends and colleagues. I met a lot of interesting people. It helped me become a more interesting person, a man for others.”

Bautista said she was a little nervous and shy when she started at Arrupe College, but she soon learned to speak up.

“I really started to participate and to speak in classes and make friends,” she said.

While she expected college professors to be standoffish, she said the Arrupe College faculty “are the nicest people. I could talk to them any time, and not just about school.”

Being at Arrupe College, she said, “felt like being with family.”

“I’m very proud of the students and what they’ve accomplished,” Katsouros said.

Like any startup, the Arrupe program has learned some lessons and made some changes in the past two years, he said. One thing that hasn’t been a surprise are the students.

“They haven’t surprised us, in that they’re great,” he said. “I think what we’re learning is how to better accompany them in their first experience of post-secondary education.”

For example, the school started a breakfast and lunch program, which helped those who might not get enough to eat at home, but also fostered the sense of community as students shared meals.

It also will incorporate a freshman seminar into the curriculum. It will have academic content, but also help students learn the time-management, note-taking and research skills they will need. 

“Right now, that’s kind of being done in a vacuum,” Katsouros said.

The college has also found that students often respond better to peer tutors when they need help, so it will expand opportunities for that.

“Often, first-generation students, students of color, feel like they don’t belong,” Katsouros said. “If they are having trouble and you send them to the tutoring center, now that’s another thing telling them they don’t belong.”

But if they get help from a student they know, a student who shares their background, that can reinforce that they do belong and can be successful, Katsouros said.

In the same way, students are sensitive to the way they are perceived. On Aug. 6, the Chicago Tribune published a story about Arrupe College. It was a fine story — a gift really, in terms of raising awareness and helping him raise money, Katsouros said — but the headline was, “Loyola program opens college doors for vulnerable students.”

“I had lunch with some of the students and they hated that,” Katsouros said. “One of them said she’d rather be called ‘poor’ than ‘vulnerable.’”

The fact is, Katsouros said, Loyola University and other Jesuit colleges especially must embrace students like those who attend Arrupe College.

“The Jesuit schools talk about social justice all the time,” he said. “It can’t just reside in rhetoric. It’s our mission.”

At the same time, Arrupe College students bring their gifts to the university, including different life experiences and stories than most university students.

“They have a fresh perspective,” he said. “No entitlement. A real intellectual curiosity and openness. A desire to build and contribute to community. Their own personal experience and wisdom. We learn a lot from these students.”

To that end, he sent his book, “Come to Believe: How the Jesuits are Reinventing Education (Again)” (Orbis Books, 2017) to the president and provost of every Jesuit university in the country. One non-Jesuit institution, St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota, is starting a similar program this year.

Writing the book while launching Arrupe College was a daunting task, Katsouros said, but worth it to spread the word.

Now that its first class is heading on to further educational opportunities, Arrupe College has hired an alumni relations coordinator to keep in touch with them as they travel to places like Regis University in Denver, Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., or stay closer to home at Loyola or University of Illinois at Chicago.

“We’re very invested in this first class and their success,” Katsouros said.

While helping the students stay on track, the coordinator also will be looking at what kind of support they get from their new schools.

“We want to see if these places are good fits for our students,” Katsouros said. 


  • arrupe college
  • loyola university chicago

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