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One year later, Arrupe students thriving

One year later, Arrupe students thriving

Brandon Thomas wasn’t sure how he was going to pay for college when he graduated from high school in 2015. But thanks to Arrupe, his college dream is now a reality. “I’m grateful that someone took a chance on me when I thought college was out of the picture,” Thomas says. (Photos: Natalie Battaglia)

By Kristen Torres  |  Student reporter

All Brandon Thomas hoped for after graduating high school was a shot at attending college.

“I wasn’t getting enough financial aid from the universities I applied to,” said Thomas, who graduated from Christ the King Jesuit College Prep High School in 2015 in Chicago’s Austin neighborhood. “My father works at O’Hare and my mother is a teacher, so tuition was always going to be a big factor in my decision.”

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After a few months of disappointing phone calls and battling his fear of not continuing his education, Thomas was offered admission into Arrupe College, the two-year associate’s degree program of Loyola University Chicago.

“I was originally waitlisted, so when I got a call asking if I wanted to be an Arrupe student I was so happy,” Thomas said. “I’m grateful that someone took a chance on me when I thought college was out of the picture.”

Arrupe opened its doors to its inaugural class during the summer of 2015. All Arrupe students receive institutionally funded aid and/or merit scholarships, which means students such as Thomas will graduate with little to no debt.

Lisset, a second-year student at Arrupe, was initially hesitant about enrolling in a two-year program.

“I didn’t really like the idea of coming here, but since I’m undocumented I had no chance of getting money from a four-year school,” said Lisset, who moved to Chicago from Mexico when she was 5. “But then I started the school year, and I told myself to look at the positive side of things: I am undocumented and I still get to go to college.”

She is now a writing fellow at Arrupe, a new peer-tutoring program at the college.

“I’ve been doing really well in my classes, and now I get to help out the new freshmen,” she said. “It’s a really good feeling.”

An impressive start

Arrupe administrators Yolanda Golden (far left) and Father Stephen Katsouros, S.J., take a group of students to Eataly as a reward for raising their GPAs. “We’re accompanying students step-by-step through their post-secondary experience,” Katsouros says.

Father Stephen Katsouros, S.J., dean and executive director of Arrupe College, attributes the school’s success to the Jesuit ideal of cura personalis—or care for the entire person.

“Embracing this idea of caring for the whole student means that we have an intrusive style of advising,” Katsouros said. “Our faculty and advisors pay close attention to student progress. We’re accompanying students step-by-step through their post-secondary experience.”

That hands-on approach is clearly paying off.

At the end of year one, Arrupe’s average cumulative student GPA was 2.8—with more than 30 students making the summer Dean’s List with a GPA of 3.5 or higher. More impressive was the retention rate: 131 of the original 159 Arrupe students (82 percent) returned to school this fall to start their second year of college. And with a new incoming class of 187 students—an 18 percent jump from the original group—Arrupe is poised to educate even more students.

While the retention numbers easily surpass those of two-year colleges across the country, the news comes as no surprise to Arrupe’s instructors.

“The students here are capable of performing at the same level as the students I taught in the College of Arts and Sciences,” said Sean O’Brien, PhD, a lecturer in writing and literature at Arrupe who previously taught at Loyola. “Our retention rate has a lot to do with our climate. We have pretty consistent messaging that if things get tough it’s not because you are not meant to be here—it’s because things get tough in college.”

Unlike traditional two-year colleges, Arrupe provides students with plenty of faculty contact. Professors double as advisors, which makes it easier to keep track of students and their progress. Professors are assigned 20 to 25 students that they will work with for the entirety of the student’s two-year education at Arrupe.

“When students come here they already know who their advisor is, and there is a first-hand connection that regular two-year colleges don’t provide,” said Minerva Ahumada, PhD, a philosophy lecturer at Arrupe. “We work with students as a whole person, and because of our size, we’re capable of doing that.”

The right decision

Arrupe professors double as advisors, which makes it easier to keep track of students and their progress. “We work with students as a whole person, and because of our size, we’re capable of doing that,” says philosophy lecturer Minerva Ahumada, PhD.  

Arrupe was opened to cater to students who needed a little extra help in high school or couldn’t afford attending a traditional four-year university. Students can schedule all of their classes in either the morning or the afternoon, leaving time to attend advising meetings or hold down a part-time job. To ease the financial burden even more, Arrupe offers a free breakfast and lunch program, which is funded by foundation and individual donor support. 

Arrupe students are encouraged to use Loyola’s other buildings and resources—including the Halas Recreation Center and Klarchek Information Commons—and they receive the same CTA U-Pass that full-time Loyola undergraduate students do.

“Being able to go up to Loyola’s campus and meet people there really helped,” said Thomas, the second-year Arrupe student from Austin. It also drove home the point that he made the right decision to attend Arrupe.

“I’m very, very grateful to be here,” Thomas said.