CHICAGO — Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, president of Loyola University Chicago, was the headliner for the Jesuit Alumni and Friends Network of Chicago event on Wednesday, April 25. Rooney spoke about the future of Jesuit higher education and Loyola’s place at the forefront of innovation.
“The expectation that the Jesuits have handed us all is that adaptation is normal,” she said. “It drives the evolution of Jesuit ministries, including education, from the beginning, up to today, and must be a part of how we look at the future.”
One of those adaptations is Arrupe College, a two-year college of Loyola that continues the Jesuit tradition of offering a rigorous liberal arts education to a diverse population, many of whom are the first in their family to pursue higher education. It was founded in 2015 and graduated its first class in 2017.
“We discovered in our outreach to lower-income students of color, who were often the first in their families to attend college, that they faced daunting obstacles to successfully completing a college degree, but it was way beyond finances,” Rooney said. “It also included educational and social support needs.”
Nationally, only five percent of these students who begin a two-year associate’s degree program finish within those two years, and only 28 percent finish within three years. At Arrupe, however, 52 percent of the innagural cohort that began their program in 2015 graduated within two years and 64 percent will graduate within three years, far surpassing the national average.
“While we know we have much more work to go, those are impressive numbers and we are confident those will continue to rise,” Rooney said. “Arrupe is designed to educate students in a closely supportive community in which faculty and staff focus their attention on the needs of the whole person. Embracing this idea of caring for the whole student means, frankly, that we have an intrusive style of advising. We pay very close attention to student progress. We truly accompany these students step by step and side by side throughout their post-secondary experience.”
Rooney also spoke about the new outlook of incoming students.”Another challenge we are facing is the changing demographics of our students,” she said. “In the next five years, we expect more than 50 percent of new students will be much older and they’ll come to us with new life experiences and expectations.”
The ability to adapt to the changing landscape of higher education is a hallmark of Jesuit institutions, and has been throughout history.
“It is a mission we can say is as contemporaneous, alive, and vital today as it was 500 years ago.” Rooney said. “As St. Ignatius did at the beginning, we respond to the needs around us and anticipate what’s around the next corner.” At a time where higher education is questioned and, frankly, commodified, we remain focused on providing an education that prepares students for careers, life-long learning, and adaptation.”
About JAFN Chicago
The Jesuit Alumni and Friends Network of Chicago gathers Jesuit-connected individuals for food, fellowship, and inspiration. This includes alumni of Jesuit institutions, parents of students and alumni, and anyone else connected to the Jesuit mission.
About Dr. Jo Ann Rooney
Dr. Jo Ann Rooney, JD, LLM, EdD, is the 24th president of Loyola University Chicago and the first lay president in the University’s history. She joined Loyola in 2016 with a diverse background that includes various positions in higher education, law, business, health care, and public service.