MINNEAPOLIS -- The University of St. Thomas is doing its part to help close the achievement gap in Minnesota.

This fall, the University of St. Thomas opened the Dougherty Family College at its downtown Minneapolis campus.

The two-year college puts students on a pathway toward a bachelor's degree.

"Currently in the United States, only one in 10 students in low-income communities graduate with a four-year degree. Whereas, eight in 10 students in high-income communities graduate with a four-year degree," said Alvin Abraham, dean of Dougherty Family College.

One hundred and seven students are in its inaugural class. Eighty-seven percent are students of color, many of whom are the first in their family to go to college.

"We try really hard to make sure that students finish our program with little to no debt," Abraham said.

The annual tuition of $15,000 is offset with the help of state and local grants, as well as scholarships and corporate support. Ultimately, it can bring the tuition cost down to just $1,000 a year for the most under-resourced students.

But Dougherty Family College also looks at other costs that come with attending college. They provide free laptops, textbooks, meals and bus transportation.

"I'm really thankful for the resources we have," said Jessica Chamu, 18, of Minneapolis. "It helps me not focus on money... and just focus on school."

"It's not a handout, it's not a freebie and they've gotta work their butts off," said Mike Dougherty, lead benefactor.

Dougherty was orphaned at an early age. He was kicked out of Creighton University after one semester and then was drafted into the U.S. Army. After returning home, he went to St. Thomas to complete his degree.

"St. Thomas gave me a second chance when I needed it and this is a small way for me and my wife and my family to pay some of that back," Dougherty said.

Most of the students are from the Twin Cities metro area. Some have moved to Minnesota and live with relatives so they can take advantage of the program.

The hope is that after students get their associate's degree in liberal arts, they'll pursue a bachelor's degree.

"I definitely want to transition to the four-year program at St. Thomas," said Xavier Abdullahi, 22, of Dayton, Minnesota.

When Abdullahi graduated high school, he went to college for a semester. He then had to drop out to pay off debt due to school and health issues. If Abdullahi maintains at least a 2.5 grade-point average, he will earn acceptance into St. Thomas as a junior to complete his bachelor's degree. However, students have the option to go to other schools in Minnesota.

Students also have mentors, and math and writing coaches are on staff. They will work with corporate partners in the Twin Cities as paid interns. Confirmed partner companies include: 3M, Delta Air Lines, Dougherty Financial Group LLC, Hubbard Radio, SPS Commerce, U.S. Bank and Ryan Companies.

Dougherty said they hope these students will go on to become leaders in the Twin Cities.

A college dedication will happen Oct. 13 at 11 a.m. at the Schulze Grand Atrium.

Dougherty Family College is accepting applications for their 2018-2019 class. Students need a 2.5 or higher grade-point average and must demonstrate a high level of financial need (meeting the eligibility requirements for federal Pell Grants and/or state grants). Students may apply here.