Dominican University launching new two-year program in Pilsen

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2023

An artist’s rendering of the new campus. (Photo provided)

After more than a century in River Forest, Dominican University is planning to open a new campus in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood in 2024, pending accreditation and state approvals.

The campus will be housed in the Resurrection Project’s La Casa Residence Hall and neighboring resource center, and will provide students from surrounding communities with an opportunity to earn career certificates and an associate’s degree in a two-year cohort- based program, said Barrington Price, Dominican University’s vice president of student success and engagement and Chicago Campus executive officer.

It is based in Dominican University’s commitment to social justice and to expanding opportunities for students, school leaders said.

“For more than a century, Dominican University has expanded access to education, guiding generations of students to find their true calling,” said Dominican University President Glena Temple. “Our university’s legacy, built by the Sinsinawa Dominican Sisters, inspires us to continually adapt to meet the needs of the communities we serve, ensuring all students have the same opportunity to thrive and graduate — with purpose. It is in this spirit that we are proud to announce our expansion into the city of Chicago, creating a new campus that will further this mission.”

Dominican, which is welcoming its largest freshman class ever this fall, has a student body that is about 70% students of color. About 10% of Dominican students report that they are undocumented.

The idea is to partner with community organizations, such as the Resurrection Project, to support students who face barriers to entering and completing college and offer them a pathway either to work or to further education, Price said.

“We see this as an initiative to help students learn and earn while they are pursuing a degree,” Price said. “Around the city of Chicago, we know African American and Latinx students face more barriers to college education. … This strategy is different because we’re coming to where students live. We’re going to be a part of their communities and walk with them. It’s about the lived reality and helping students aspire to something different than what they’re doing today.”

“Dominican University’s community development and social mobility mission is closely aligned with ours,” said Raul Raymundo, chief executive officer of the Resurrection Project and La Casa Resource Center. “From the beginning of our partnership, Dominican has been intentional about opening a Chicago campus that is responsive and connected to the community where it resides. We are thrilled to welcome Dominican to the Pilsen community and for the opportunities this campus will afford our residents, community organizations and businesses.”

While the pricing structure for tuition and fees has not yet been published, Price said he and the rest of the team working on the project have heard the message from high schools, neighborhood organizations and community leaders that it has to be affordable. He expects it will be comparable to other two-year college programs.

The two-year program is planned to have a cohort of 80 to 100 students each year. Students will be required to live on campus the first year, the better to take advantage of mentoring, tutoring and other supports. Their meals will be provided at no extra cost.

“A couple of things that we’ve learned about students is that they’re asking for help balancing education and the rest of their life commitments,” Price said. “We want to create conditions that allow them to engage in education. … We have some really brilliant young people in the city, who just need opportunities. And opportunities are not equally distributed.”

Surveys of Dominican’s current student population show that about 7% face housing insecurity and about 11% food insecurity; this program will help address those needs for students who likely face more barriers to college than the students who are already pursuing bachelor’s degrees, Price said.

At the same time, community organizations partnering with the university could connect students’ families to the resources they need.

Students who complete the two-year program will earn an associate degree in liberal arts and sciences and a certificate in one of four areas: cybersecurity, certified nursing assistance, translation and interpretation or legal studies. When they finish, they can be placed in a job or be automatically admitted to complete their bachelor’s degrees at Dominican University.

As the students move through the program together, they will have dedicated “immersion days” where they visit some of Dominican’s community partners and social justice projects, Price said, and dedicated days for students to work in paid employment.

At the same time, the campus will offer certificate programs, degree completion and other academic programs outside of the two-year program. Exactly what the university will offer is still being determined, Price said.

“We’re doing a lot of listening,” he said, adding that local employers and other community stakeholders are giving their input.

Price said paying for the program will mean a commitment from Dominican and its community partners, finding grants and government programs that apply and seeking out donations from philanthropists. It won’t be easy, he acknowledged, but he believes it’s important.

“Success to me is empowering students to make meaningful wages to pursue their own truth,” Price said. “We’re affirming their own identity and the identity of their communities. Success is also becoming an anchor institution in some of these neighborhoods.”


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