Making the decision to attend a Catholic college
Finances, faith other factors play a role
By Sue Schulzetenberg-Gully
As Amy Bechtold busily wraps up her senior year at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud, she looks forward to carrying on another tradition.
“I’m going to St. Ben’s,” said Bechtold, a member of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids. “I have a family tradition of going there.” Her mom, her mom’s sisters, Bechtold’s sister and cousins have all attended the college in St. Joseph.
For Bechtold, scraping up dollars for a private college education is easier than most. Her dad is a security officer for CSB, so her tuition is covered, although not her other college expenses.
For other students, paying the private price tag can be more challenging. But scholarships and financial aid offer help for many students.
“They offer a lot of scholarship programs,” said Eric Pelant, a senior at Cathedral High School who plans to attend St. John’s University in Collegeville in the fall. Pelant received a scholarship from the school based on academics, test scores, and leadership and service.
Yearly tuition and fees averaged $31,397 for students attending Catholic colleges in Minnesota in 2011-12; the average for state universities was $7,026.
“It’s a delicate piece in that we need to, and we want to, be respectful of everyone’s different financial situation,” said Mary Quick, a guidance counselor at Cathedral High School. “We encourage students to apply to all types of colleges, big and small, basically looking at what they might want, trying to zero in on that. In reference to Catholic colleges, which are also private and come with a bigger price tag, we really encourage them not be scared off by that because they often have bigger scholarship options.”
The number of students who attend private colleges and receive financial assistance is quite high. Ninety-four percent of private college students receive financial aid, and, on average, the students pay about half of the listed price, according to mnprivatecolleges.org.
Mary Jo Leighton, director of guidance and counseling at St. John’s Preparatory School in Collegeville, said she encourages students to think broadly, focus on a variety of items that are important to them and look at their options. She said some colleges will offer scholarships for students of Catholic schools.
For example, a scholarship is available for College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University students who attended Catholic high schools in a state other than Minnesota.
“It does not mean we have anything against our Minnesota schools, we just do other things for them in terms of recruitment or visiting with them, and we try to defer some of the costs a national student might have if they have to drive up here or fly here,” said Karen Backes, admissions dean for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University.
The admission team for the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University works with students to see what they might be able to offer them. Ninety-one percent of College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University students receive merit or need-based financial aid.
The percentage of Catholic students attending Catholic colleges varies from place to place. Many scholarships and grants are also available to non-Catholics at these colleges, and admission offices branch out to serve a wide variety of students.
Marlene Mohs, president of the National Catholic College Admission Association and associate dean of admissions at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and Minneapolis, said recruitment approaches vary from college to college, often influenced by religious orders that founded them.
“Here at St. Kate’s, the Sisters of St. Joseph have a social justice mission and an outreach to the neighbor,” Mohs said. “So it’s been part of our goals to have a diverse student body, but different Catholic colleges approach that differently and might want a greater percentage of their students to be from a Catholic faith tradition.”
At the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University, about 60 percent of the students are Catholic. At St. Catherine’s just under half of the students are Catholic. About 52 percent of the undergraduate students at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul are Catholic.
“In some cases, the predominant Catholic recruitment continues partially out of loyalty, partially out of history and because, of course, your identity and purpose is still the promotion of a new generation of Catholic lay leaders, so you will want to be attractive to the Catholic population,” said Franciscan Sister Margaret Carney, chair of the board of directors for the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities and president of St. Bonaventure University in St. Bonaventure, N.Y.
“But,” she said, “for many Catholic colleges, they would want to be attractive to any student who would benefit from the education they offer, and in many cases you want a diverse student body because where better than a college campus to learn to encounter people of other faiths?”
For Bechtold, the reasons for attending a Catholic college rested on a combination of such aspects. Attending a Catholic high school, she saw the importance of small class sizes and the faith experience it provides.
“Faith is very important in my family on both sides, and I’d like to carry out the family tradition of faith,” she said.