MINNEAPOLIS — The price of higher education can deter even the brightest students from pursuing a degree. According to a March 2023 ScholarshipOwl for Business report, 83 percent of more than 9,000 high school- and college-aged students who were surveyed say current economic conditions have affected their ability to pay for college.
In Minnesota, the University of St. Thomas' Dougherty Family College is making higher education more accessible for students from underserved communities. Since 2017, the school has offered a two-year associate degree program designed to prepare students for a smooth transition into four-year colleges.
When KARE 11 stopped by an art history class in late March, just five students and their professor were there, using clay to replicate a javelina skull.
"I definitely like hands-on activities better than textbook, for sure," sophomore Jalyn Hall said.
Each student attended a different Minnesota high school: Hopkins, Irondale, Rogers, White Bear Lake and Washburn. Growing up, Hall thought high school would be the last step in her education.
"I'm a first-generation college student," the Irondale grad explained. "I didn't think I could excel in college. I didn't think I would be able to handle the coursework."
Hall attributes her success so far at Dougherty Family College to its structure. Students take all of the same classes together and are each given one-on-one mentoring. Support is part of the plan.
"Okay, so we have public speaking, psychology, and justice and peace," Hall recalled of her cohort's schedule.
There are 12 cohorts total: six for freshmen and six for sophomores. Hall says the other big benefit of the school is its relatively low cost to attend.
According to National Center for Education Statistics, the average tuition of a two-year college is upwards of $3,000 per year. At Dougherty Family College, many students pay a little over $1,000 per year.
"Almost half of our students who filed the FAFSA paid $1,030/year for tuition and fees in 2020-21," according to the school's website.
Last year, 92 percent of graduates earned their associate degree owing zero student loan debt. Students also get books, laptops, transportation and 10 meals per week — for free.
"That's the main reason why I came here; because I knew I wouldn't have to struggle," Hall said.
Students with a 2.5 GPA or above earn automatic admission into the University of St. Thomas.
"Seventy-five percent of our scholars, our graduates, are either currently in a four-year program or have graduated with their bachelor's degree," Dean Buffy Smith said.
Just ask graduate Khalid Mohamed, who works the front desk in the dean's suite.
"I am studying at the University of St. Thomas right now and I'm studying computer science with hopes of becoming a data analyst or a programmer in the future," Mohamed said.
Additionally, 13 current students earned full-ride scholarships to the University of St. Thomas this year, including Hall.
"She's one of our superstars," Smith said. "We can't remove the challenges and some of the dark moments that our scholars encounter but we do promise that they do not have to travel that journey alone."
Students also attend internships once a week. Hall is currently at U.S. Bank headquarters downtown on the bank's diversity, equity and inclusion team. She plans to major in social work and minor in criminal justice when she heads to St. Thomas this fall.
Dougherty Family College is currently accepting applications for fall 2023.
Watch more Lifting Voices:
Watch all of the latest stories from Lifting Voices in our YouTube playlist: