The Dougherty Family College DFC Commons
Mark Brown/University of St. Thomas

Why Some Families Choose Dougherty Family College

May 1 is National Decision Day in the United States – the day that most high school seniors should confirm enrollment for the college they want to attend starting the next academic year. Although ultimately the decision is up to the student, at Dougherty Family College in Minneapolis many parents play a role as their child narrows their options.

DFC admitted student Autumn Kennedy with her mom
DFC admitted student Autumn Kennedy (left) visited the Minneapolis-based college with her mom, Shenelle Haines.

Shenelle Haines attended a recent open house for admitted students with her daughter Autumn Kennedy. What they heard from current DFC scholars and staff reinforced for them that the associate degree college was the best choice. It’s the cohort model with small class sizes that appealed to them most.

“DFC was always Autumn’s No. 1 school [choice],” Haines said. “She was in a cohort in her Roseville high school. She knew that being with a smaller group was a game changer.”

At Dougherty Family College, cohort sizes range from about 10 to 15 scholars who all take every course together during their entire time at the two-year college.

Haines said that her daughter had other options, including going to the same university that both Autumn’s older sister and boyfriend chose. “Autumn considered going there, but she was able to prioritize her needs. It was important to her to have a community of her own.”

It didn’t take much convincing for mom to get onboard. “I saw her acceptance pamphlet and I was like ‘oh wow.’ I was impressed.” 

Haines, who in 2019 received a certified professional project manager (CPPM) certificate from the Opus College of Business at the University of St. Thomas, learned more about DFC by speaking with others who had graduated from the university. “I appreciated the program and how many DFC students continued on at St. Thomas.” 

Interim Dean Buffy Smith, who addressed the families that night, said, “We take great pride that our courses are as rigorous as the courses for the four-year degree [at St. Thomas]. At Dougherty Family College you will earn an associate degree, but this is not a community college. This is a road in preparation for your bachelor’s degree. The degree that will set you up for your future. We don’t want you to be the first person in your family to go to college, we want you to be the first person in your family to graduate from college.”

Dougherty Family College Interim Dean Buffy Smith addresses the families of admitted students.
Sheree R. Curry / University of St. Thomas

Looking ahead to her daughter’s future was important to Marnesha Hords. She also accompanied her daughter Zahara Williams to the open house. “She found you guys on her own,” Hords said about DFC. “For her to express the level of excitement that she did; seeing the excitement from her made me excited.” 

Part of what impressed Hords about DFC is the high number of faculty, staff and students who identify as Black, Indigenous or people of color. “In high school and elementary school, Zahara didn’t have a lot of people who looked like her.”

“We have a very diverse team,” Smith said. “Close to 50% of our team identify as BIPOC.” And about 90% of the scholars identify as BIPOC, as well.

The diversity combined with the low-cost tuition, small class sizes and family atmosphere appeals to Sheletta Brundidge, a local Twin Cities radio show host who would like for her 15-year-old son to attend once he graduates high school. In the meantime, she said, she is busy telling others to enroll their child.

“Who wants to graduate with a lot of student loan debt,” she asks rhetorically. “It's a struggle and a burden for a lot of our families. A lot of major, big universities, you might not hear from unless your check bounces, but going to Dougherty Family College where you can afford it, is an amazing opportunity right in our backyard.” She added, “You hear from so many parents that their kids go to these big schools with these expectations that it's going to be like a family atmosphere and it's not, but at Dougherty Family College, they know your name. They’ll check to make sure you’re OK.”

DFC scholars speaking at the admitted student open house echoed similar sentiments. “I thought college was not for me,” said first-year scholar Alejandra Soria, who pointed out that English was not her first language. “But you get a mentor here. Your professors are checking in on you and you get a lot of support.”

And that’s a message that Smith left with families. She spoke directly to the admitted students and said, “We see your talent, your intellect, your gifts. You will have assigned mentors, peer support and peer accountability. You will feel embraced and loved.”

DFC has a rolling enrollment, which means that there is still time to apply beyond the May 1 decision date. Learn more about applying to Dougherty Family College.