By Drew Sottardi, Senior Editor, Loyola University Chicago
As one of the largest Jesuit universities in the country—located in one of the largest cities in America—Loyola University Chicago is committed to the ideal of “a diverse community seeking God in all things.”
That mission is never far from sight. Within the past few months, the University has implemented several key initiatives specifically focused on recruiting and retaining more minority students. Loyola recently introduced Plan 2020, a new five-year strategic plan that lays out the University’s priorities over the next half decade. The first priority is to improve access and graduation rates for underserved students—a goal that Loyola is actively focused on with the start of Arrupe College.
Arrupe opened its doors in August 2015 to 159 low-income students who couldn’t afford to attend a traditional four-year university. The Arrupe mission started with a small budget and a big dream: to help students earn an associate’s degree and graduate with little or no debt.
Thanks to a committed faculty and staff—as well as a group of carefully selected and motivated students—the school is off to a successful start.
Of the 159 students in the inaugural class, 146 students remain enrolled—with the vast majority of those students on track to complete their associate’s degrees in two years. Interest in Arrupe is spreading quickly across Chicago: The college has already surpassed the final number of applications from last year by 34 percent.
Students at Arrupe, which offers associate’s degrees in three concentrations, have small class sizes and significant one-on-one time with faculty members. They also receive financial aid support through various sources and get help finding a part-time job. And, most importantly, they are part of a small community that provides the full range of resources needed to succeed in school.
“We want our students at Arrupe College to fall in love with the idea of being college students, of being academically successful in a rigorous Jesuit college environment,” says Rev. Stephen Katsouros, S.J., dean and executive director of Arrupe College. “We want them to embrace the idea that they can do this, that they can be successful at the corner of Pearson and State—and beyond.”
One such student who is studying—and succeeding—at Arrupe is Blanca Rodriguez.
The oldest child of Mexican immigrants, Rodriguez has dreamed of going to college since she was in seventh grade. But in high school, she realized that a four-year university would be financially out of reach for her and her family. Then she discovered Arrupe.
“I’ve always prayed to go to a good school and to have a good education,” she says. “This school was an obvious sign that God listens to my prayers.”
Other Initiatives at Loyola
Loyola assesses and reports on diversity each year. The latest “Annual Report on Diversity” was issued in February 2016 and affirms that various University efforts are working to increase diversity on campus. The latest report shows a record number of new African-American students and an increase in retention and graduation rates for this population. In total, minorities now make up more than 38 percent of the undergraduate student population.
Over the past several years, Loyola has also increased diversity among its faculty, and today nearly 16 percent of all faculty members are minorities. That said, there is much work ahead as it relates to increasing this percentage and attracting a diverse student body.
Below are examples of other steps Loyola is taking to increase diversity on its campus:
Recruit More Minority Students
In its continued commitment to increase diversity, Loyola’s Undergraduate Admission Office participated in more than 70 events last fall at Chicago high schools that have large populations of students of color. This spring, the office is hosting a multicultural overnight program and is launching a peer-to-peer program for admitted students to connect with current students of color.
Increase Financial Aid Packages
The University’s Office of Financial Aid is working to develop more merit and grant awards to attract a diverse student body. Loyola recently revised its award processes, which enabled the University to enroll the most ethnically and racially diverse class in its history. Last fall, 42 percent of incoming freshmen identified as students of color, and the African-American student population increased by 47 percent this academic year.
Welcome Undocumented Students
In December, the University’s Board of Trustees approved the Magis Scholarship Fund, a student-led initiative to add an individual $2.50 student fee each semester—and raise roughly $50,000 each year for undocumented students. In the fall, the University awarded five full scholarships to Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) students. The scholarships, which will be renamed Magis Scholarships to honor the student-led effort, are renewable for three additional years.
Improve Retention Rates
Programs such as Achieving College Excellence (ACE) and the Men and Women of Color initiatives have helped increase Loyola’s student retention rates to 86 percent of freshmen and 87 percent of African-American students. The University plans to expand its mentoring programs and focus on additional opportunities to help minority students succeed.
Conduct a Climate Survey
Winifred Williams, Ph.D., Loyola’s vice president of human resources and chief diversity and inclusion officer, has created an Executive Council on Diversity and Inclusion. The Council includes administrative, academic, Jesuit, and student leaders, and its initial goals include developing a diversity statement for the University and conducting a campus climate survey of all students this year.
Support Student Research
The McNair Scholars Program at Loyola helps students interested in conducting research or earning an advanced degree. The program—designed for first-generation college students or others who are underrepresented in graduate education—provides mentorship, academic support, and research opportunities with the ultimate goal of helping students earn a doctoral degree.