Chicago Arrupe College

Arrupe’s impact in Chicago’s high schools

By Maura Sullivan Hill

When Arrupe College launched at Loyola University Chicago in 2015, Jacob Caplan, a college counselor at Eric Solorio Academy High School on Chicago’s Southwest Side, thought it was too good to be true. Arrupe promised students the opportunity to earn a two-year associate’s degree with little or no debt, and a lot of academic and personal support. “I knew it was a good idea,” said Caplan. “And our relationship began by taking a leap of faith with them.”

In the years since, Arrupe has delivered on their promise. Seventy-five percent of the first graduating class has successfully made the transition to four-year colleges and universities, and enrollment is on the rise each year, with 300 students from the city of Chicago and surrounding area currently in the program.

As Arrupe has made higher education more affordable and accessible for Chicago students, it has shifted the way counselors like Caplan approach the college application process. At Solorio, Caplan has altered his entire advising strategy based on Arrupe’s success. Today, he encourages every junior at Solorio to add Arrupe to their college search list.

“During their junior year seminar class, students figure out what they want to do after high school, and how to get themselves there. And in that class, we’re suggesting that all of our students do some research on Arrupe, because we’ve had so much success with it,” Caplan said.

That success has been two-fold, thanks to both the academic and financial support that Arrupe offers. Of the nearly 1,000 students at Solorio, about five to 10 attend Arrupe each year. They have sent 23 students since 2015, and seven have graduated from Arrupe and moved on to four-year institutions.

When Caplan encounters a student who wants to go to college but is not sure what to study, he immediately points them towards Arrupe. He sees these types of students thriving in Arrupe’s supportive academic and advising model, as compared to a community college.

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“Chicago’s city colleges are segmented, in a good way, so if you want to be an electrician, you know there is a program specifically for you. I get excited about sending students to city colleges when they know why they want to go there,” Caplan said. “But when I see a student of mine who wants to get into college and find their passion once they get there, those are the students that I think can fall through the cracks in big systems, and I tell them to look at Arrupe. Even if, at the end of two years, they still have no idea what they want to do, they’ve met professors who they can rely on for guidance and support.”

A home for all students

Arrupe’s promise for students to graduate with minimal debt has also been transformative for Caplan’s students at Solorio—in particular those who are undocumented and cannot apply for federal financial aid. Now, Caplan has an alternative option to suggest to students who are academically prepared for college, but do not have the financial resources.

“I had two young ladies in particular who happened to be undocumented, and their only option was to go to the city colleges, but we sent them to Arrupe that first year,” Caplan said. “One got all A’s for two years at Arrupe and ended up with a full ride to Loyola, even without any federal aid.”

Paying for college without federal financial aid isn’t just a concern for students at Solario. In a city with a sizeable population of undocumented residents, it has been an issue for many talented high school students who wish to go on to college. Tamika Turner Djondo, the former dean of 11th, 12th, and college at Rauner College Prep, a charter high school in the West Town neighborhood, credits Arrupe with opening doors that were once closed to these students.

“Arrupe has been a strong partner in helping to ensure that students who are undocumented can go to college, and we are very appreciative of that,” said Turner Djondo, who is now vice president of the corporate work study program at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School and Christ the King Jesuit College Prep. “Not receiving federal loans makes it very difficult to attend any college, let alone a four-year college. The way they package financial aid shows an interest and a care towards making sure that students who are DREAMers are still able to access college.”

While Chicago Public Schools does not collect data on students’ immigration status, they do track socioeconomic status. According to data collected during the 2017-2018 school year, 77.7 percent of students in the Chicago Public Schools are categorized as economically disadvantaged students. And not surprisingly, research has shown that these students tend to enroll in colleges after graduating high school at significantly lower rates than students from higher-income backgrounds. That makes Arrupe’s model of giving students an opportunity to earn a two-year degree with little or no debt especially beneficial to students from Chicago, who make up the majority of Arrupe’s 300 students.

Arrupe is also well-known for the support it provides for students, both academically and personally, but the admissions office also offers a unique level of support to high schools during the application process. This additional outreach sets up both prospective students and their college counselors for success.

“Arrupe always has an open door for us to bring students on a college visit. It doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but you’d be shocked at how hard it is to set up college visits,” Caplan said. “At Arrupe, it is always, ‘Yes, and.’ They want to help rather than put up barriers, which is huge for us.”

Four-year track

Isabel Reyes, the associate director of admission at Arrupe, is dedicated to forming relationships and collaborative partnerships with college counseling staff at Chicago’s high schools, including Chicago Public Schools, charter schools, and Catholic schools. One of those partnerships is with Rauner College Prep, which has sent 15 of its graduates to Arrupe.

“None of my students applying to Arrupe have fallen through the cracks,” Turner Djondo said. “Isabel and I have made sure, collaboratively, that the students are getting through the application process and fulfilling all the steps needed so that they can get a decision from the admissions committee.”

At Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in the Pilsen neighborhood, Arrupe has filled a void for students who were not accepted to four-year schools, but who also did not thrive at community colleges. “We weren’t seeing a lot of success in our students who were going to two-year community colleges,” said Araceli Palafox, the director of college counseling at Cristo Rey. “Based on our data, they just weren’t transferring to four-year schools.”

Since Cristo Rey is a college preparatory school, they weren’t content with that gap and saw Arrupe as an opportunity to help their alumni on the path to four-year colleges. Beyond that, Arrupe has also provided something to Cristo Rey and Chicago’s other Catholic high schools that they never had before: an option for students who wanted to continue their faith-based education but who weren’t yet ready to move into a four-year Catholic university.

“When Arrupe came, they were talking about the Jesuit connection, personalized education, mentorship, and making sure someone is there to guide them when they are ready to transfer to a four-year school,” Palafox said. “Our students need that type of support.”

Victoria Hernandez, a 2018 graduate of Cristo Rey, chose Arrupe because she wanted to continue learning in the Jesuit tradition while also staying close to home in Chicago. Before Arrupe, it would not have been possible for Hernandez to get a Jesuit education without leaving home and accruing debt. Now a freshman studying social and behavioral sciences, Hernandez has found Arrupe to be an ideal fit. “I really like the support and the faith focus at Arrupe. It reminds me a lot of Cristo Rey,” she said.

Thirteen Cristo Rey graduates have attended Arrupe since 2016, including Hernandez and Jorge Escobar, a freshman pursuing an associate of arts in business degree.

“I could have gone to a school for four years and gotten myself into debt, or gone to community college and gotten lost in a huge class, but I had a middle option,” said Escobar, the first in his family to go to college. “I feel like it is our job to show the students behind us that they have the option of going to college. Even if your parents are immigrants, that has nothing to do with it. You’re lucky enough to come to this school, you can succeed from here.”