FAQs for the Two-Year College

Why is St. Thomas offering this new degree? 

There is a gap in the achievement of a bachelor’s degree for low-income, underserved students.

A bachelor’s degree can be a gateway to higher salaries and higher career potential.

For underserved students, it can be difficult to matriculate directly into a four-year degree program due to:

  • Lack of individualized academic and social support
  • Lack of mentors
  • Lack of financial means

St. Thomas believes we can help move these students forward to make attainment of a four-year degree possible.


How does a two-year college fit with the mission of St. Thomas?

St. Thomas was founded by Archbishop John Ireland in 1885 to give working-class and immigrant communities access to rigorous, values-centered education.

By launching a two-year college targeting low-income populations who currently are underserved, St. Thomas continues the vision set by Archbishop Ireland by striving to meet the needs of people desiring to better their lives through hard work and education.

The two-year college aligns beautifully with our commitment to expand access, reduce student debt and contribute to reducing the college education attainment gap in Minnesota.


Why does Minneapolis/St. Paul need another two-year degree?

The Twin Cities has many high-quality two-year technical/vocational degree programs, and this college is not looking to replicate that. The St. Thomas two-year college was conceived to offer an alternative pathway to increase achievement of a four-year degree for underserved populations.

Minnesota’s workforce is shrinking even as the labor needs of area employers are rising. Many of the jobs in Minnesota require a four-year degree. In fact, Minnesota ranks 10th in the country for the percentage of jobs requiring a bachelor’s degree (source: Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce).

Adults with bachelor's degrees experience lower unemployment rates and higher median yearly income than adults with only a high school diploma. In the Twin Cities, adults with bachelor’s degrees make $22,332 more than adults with high school diplomas (source: census.gov).

Yet only one-third of young adults obtain a four-year degree. Less than 25 percent of students from families with annual incomes less than $10,000 earned bachelor’s degrees within six years, compared with nearly two-thirds of those with incomes of greater than $150,000 (source: Chronicle of Higher Education, “Engine of Inequality,” Jan. 17, 2016).

Various barriers contribute to a lower achievement of a four-year degree for underserved populations including financial, academic and social support.


Is St. Thomas bringing something new or just more competition to the existing market?

We are filling a unique space by providing specific academic and social support to enable low-income, underserved populations to achieve a four-year degree.

Our learning model and overall approach is distinctive in our market. We believe the targeted student population for our two-year program would benefit from personalized academic and social support, structured and intense mentoring, and a smaller, cohort-learning community that will prepare them to achieve their four-year degree

We are targeting 300 students on an ongoing basis so our total number would be well below a number that could significantly cannibalize other programs.


Who is eligible to apply?

Our Associate of Arts degree program is best suited to recent high school graduates of very limited financial means who have a desire to earn a bachelor’s degree but need more academic and social support to achieve their dream.

We will deliberately build classes and cohorts through a selective, holistic admissions process based on the following specific student profile:

  • High level of financial need, e.g., students whose family income would make them eligible for Pell and/or state grants
  • GPA 2.5 and above
  • ACT optional admissions
  • Students who demonstrate an attitude of college readiness in their written narrative and interview process, as well as perseverance, resilience and a commitment to achieving personal goals


Who should not apply?

Students who need evening classes.

Students who want a technical/vocational degree.

Student who want to earn an Associate of Arts with a specific pre-major emphasis (we only offer an AA-Liberal Arts).

Students who don’t want a structured cohort-learning environment.

Students who are not interested in pursuing a four-year degree.


What are the benefits of our two-year college?

Structured, holistic and intensive academic mentoring and advising.

Relatively little financial debt upon graduation.

Strong learning community of a maximum of 300 students.

Cohort model of instruction.

Academic and social support services (e.g., tutoring and personal counseling).

Culturally responsive pedagogy in all classes.

Small class sizes (maximum class size of 25 students).

Paid internships with regional employers to develop professional and life skills, foster community engagement and financial freedom.

Metro transit passes, laptop computers and meal plans provided.

Access to all St. Thomas clubs, intramural sports, athletic facilities with an opportunity to create other student clubs and organizations.


Why shouldn’t St. Thomas encourage applicants to just apply to its four-year program?

We believe the intended target of our two-year program requires extra academic and social support, structured and intensive mentoring, the benefit of a smaller community and a cohort-learning model to unlock their potential to ultimately achieve a four-year degree.


Are we creating a school similar to one of the Minnesota State campuses with a broad range of offerings?

The St. Thomas two-year college is a highly targeted program designed to reach a specific population with a specific end goal in mind (a four-year degree).

With full capacity of 300, the reach of this program does not compare with the 10,000-plus student bodies that Minnesota State campuses serve.


Is this a marketing ploy to get the two-year degree recipients to apply to the St. Thomas four-year program post graduation?

We specifically have built the program so graduates will have the needed requirements to choose from different options for four-year programs. Of course we would love for them to choose St. Thomas, but we did not design the core curriculum to replicate two of the four years of St. Thomas’ bachelor’s curriculum. We understand that graduates will want to look at all their options and we have designed the two-year core curriculum to maximize their opportunities.


Many employers want students with specific technical skills. Why did St. Thomas choose to offer an Associate of Arts degree instead of technical degrees?

Technical programs require scope and scale to offer sufficient options to students. The small size of our program (300 total students) would not allow us to provide enough options to make offering technical degrees feasible. Further, our ultimate goal is helping underserved students achieve a bachelor’s degree. Students who believe that a two-year degree is sufficient to get them started in their chosen profession should choose a different option than St. Thomas’ Associate of Arts degree.


Why is this program being held on the Minneapolis campus and not in St. Paul?

Our two-year college is non-residential, and the Minneapolis campus offers better options for commuters (light rail, multiple bus lines, etc.).

Greater access to internship and employment opportunities in the downtown business district.

More class space.

Two-year Tommie students will have access to all activities/events on St. Paul and will be welcomed into our community just like our four-year Tommies.


How is our program different from Arrupe?

We are grateful for the example of Arrupe and the chance to benefit from their learning as an in-market program entering year two. We are also very grateful to the leadership of Arrupe for generously sharing that learning.

The St. Thomas program was built with different elements.

For starters, it has been built with existing courses from the St. Thomas undergraduate curriculum.

Our cohort of students also attend classes together for the entire day and follow the same fall/spring semester schedule our four-year students use (Arrupe students attend either morning or evening classes year-round).

We also are building a professional development/internship program to pair students with corporate and community partners.


Does our two-year college dilute the value of our four-year degree?

It is a different and new degree for St. Thomas. The ultimate goal is for the two-year college students to obtain their bachelor's degree because we believe that the bachelor's degree has value.

The two-year college courses will be subject to the same evaluation criteria and standards as our four-year classes.

While the academic profile of the two-year college incoming students in the beginning is likely to be lower than our four-year students, their commitment to hard work and a successful outcome will be the same. These are students for whom without the St. Thomas two-year degree they would not have achieved a four-year degree. We are preparing these students for successful entry into four-year degree programs where they can succeed and flourish alongside students who started originally at a four-year college.


Will the two-year college siphon off funds from the four-year college?

One of the criteria for board approval and presidential support is that it must be self-sustaining. A 10-year financial model has been built that does not take operating funds from other colleges or units.

Support for the two-year college has been solicited from donors specifically interested in funding an initiative like this.


Can a student eligible for our four-year college choose to apply to the two-year college instead to get tuition savings?

Students able to matriculate directly into our four-year college should apply directly to our four-year program. The two-year college is intended for students who would not be able to directly matriculate into a four-year program.

The student profile for the two-year college is quite distinct from our four-year college in that we are looking to support students with a demonstrated need for supplemental financial, academic and social support in order to successfully achieve a bachelor’s degree.


Why does the two-year college cost $15,000 per year, which is less than half the annual cost of our four-year college?

St. Thomas built the two-year program to fit the financial model of revenue from Pell/state grants, St. Thomas scholarships and a minimum of $1,000 student contribution. Every decision reflected the need to stay within this model as the financial mandate of the two-year college is to operate at breakeven.

The two-year college provides a very limited and prescribed curriculum, which can be offered at a lower price. The students do not have the variety of courses that are offered in the four-year college. Because it enrolls only 300 students, has fewer faculty, fewer course offerings, it is less expensive.

The two-year college takes advantage of existing surplus facility space on our Minneapolis location, thereby saving St. Thomas $6 million+ if new facilities had to be built.


How will we measure success?

Student retention and graduation rates and ultimately the number of students going on and completing four-year degrees. Initially we expect at least an 80 percent retention rate from first to second year.

Associate of Arts curriculum evaluated to be equivalent to the standards of St. Thomas courses.

Achievement of breakeven financial model.


Will the students be able to get jobs if they choose not to continue to a four-year school because they’re not getting vocational training? 

While we hope that our students will go on to achieve four-year degrees, the Associate of Arts degree is a marketable credential for a student's resume and represents an important milestone in achieving academic, professional and personal success.

Employers value the associate degree as evidence of student commitment to expanding knowledge and achieving educational goals.

The Associate of Arts degree signals to employers that the degree holder has advanced skills in communication and critical thinking skills – skills that are paramount for success in today's workplace. The degree gives the recipients the foundation for acquiring new knowledge and to adapting to change in the work environment.


Will two-year college students be eligible to play on Division III sports teams?

No, but students can participate fully in undergraduate activities like intramural sports and have full use of St. Thomas facilities. Students will pay an undergrad activities fees.


Will the two-year college entrance academic statistics be combined with the four-year entrance statistics and therefore negatively impact our national rankings in publications like U.S. News & World Report?

Rankings that cover four-year colleges strictly will be looking at statistics that apply to those programs.


Is the two-year college a diversity initiative for St. Thomas?

Consistent with our mission and convictions, St. Thomas highly values diversity among our students, faculty and staff. We will continue to pursue diversity within and among each of our programs, schools and colleges, and diversity statistics for the two-year college will not be reported in combination with statistics for our four-year college.

The two-year college ties directly to the St. Thomas Strategic Plan initiative of finding alternative pathways to higher education.