Student seeks new opportunity at Dougherty Family College: St. Thomas two-year school offers low-income students a chance at college

Safiya Mohamed contributed to this story.

Kelly Ordonez Saybe didn’t get into her first college choice, the University of St. Thomas.

Saybe, 18, had other college options, but worried about how she would pay the soaring cost of tuition. Then she got accepted into the Dougherty Family College, St. Thomas’ new two-year school for low-income students, many of whom are the first in their families to attend college.

“I knew that I needed to find something that was going to be the right fit,” said Saybe, a 2017 Roseville Area High School graduate. For her, that happened to be the Dougherty Family College, which is welcoming its first class this fall.

Kelly Ordonez Saybe in front of a University of St. Thomas sign.
Kelly Ordonez-Saybe, a Roseville Area High School graduate and ThreeSixty Journalism alum, says the Dougherty Family College is “giving me another chance.”  (Safiya Mohamed/ThreeSixty Journalism)

Although it is a two-year program, Dougherty students will get a college experience similar to St. Thomas, but for far less money, said Doug Thompson, associate dean of students at Dougherty.

“I think the resources and the support that our students will receive at the DFC will separate them from other community college students,” Thompson said.

The Dougherty school could offer huge savings over other colleges. Tuition and fees are expected to be $15,000 per year, but school officials say tuition could be as low as $1,000 per year, after grants and financial aid, for the neediest students.

By comparison, tuition alone at St. Thomas is more than $40,000 per year.

St. Thomas drew inspiration for the two-year school from Arrupe College, a similar program at Loyola University in Chicago. Dougherty students will earn a two-year associate’s degree that they can use to transfer into a four-year university, including St. Thomas.

Dougherty offers many initiatives to help students transition from high school to college. Students will receive free breakfast and lunch and free bus passes to get to campus, located at St. Thomas’ downtown Minneapolis campus. The college will supply students with laptops that they keep after graduation.

The college will offer introductory liberal arts classes designed to help students transfer to a four-year school.

Students also will receive paid internships at some of the area’s largest companies. Students will be in school four days per week and then work at their internship one day per week, Thompson said.

“The whole experience at Dougherty is going to be unique because … we’re really exposing them to so many opportunities in addition to classroom opportunities,” Thompson said.

The incoming class is expected to be about 75 students, Thompson said in July. College leaders expect that once the school is fully up and running, it will have no more than 300 students per year.


When Saybe was 5 years old, her family moved from Honduras to the U.S. In first grade, she took classes for students who weren’t fluent in English.

Since seventh grade, Saybe has been active in a college-readiness program, even graduating from the program with honors. Ever since, she says, the belief that she must attend college has become deeply ingrained, even though no one in her family has gone to college.

Saybe said she hopes to study English and become a teacher.

“I really wanted to attend St. Thomas,” she said, “so I felt the Dougherty Family College was giving me another chance to be a St. Thomas student and to continue on.”