Butler University announced last month plans to create a two-year college to help students afford a degree at the private university for a lower cost.

The program will allow students to get a Butler associate’s degree in business or allied health  — which essentially is health care professions who are not doctors, nurses or pharmacists — with little to no debt. The two-year degree cost is covered by state and federal financial aid and eventually transfer to receive a bachelor’s degree from Butler for no more than $10,000 if they so choose. 

The move comes as Butler University moves to expand its educational offerings in general to appeal to students looking for a wider array of educational opportunities. With Indiana’s low college-going rate — just 53% — more options for students may increase the likelihood of high school seniors enrolling in college.

The northside university is the fourth school to adopt a model of this kind nationwide. It’s supported by and partially funded by the Come to Believe Network, a nonprofit that helps colleges and universities create two-year colleges on campuses. 

While several universities across Indiana — including IUPUIBall State UniversityMarian University and University of Indianapolis — offer some associate’s degrees, most students pursuing a two-year program attend a community college. In Indiana, that means Ivy Tech, which offers associate’s degrees in both business and a variety of health care professions, from paramedic science to medical imaging.

Butler plans to target students who could flourish but have been dealt difficult circumstances that may have impeded their academic progress, such as working 40 hours a week in high school, for example, or being in the foster care system. 

“We know that promise and possibility is equally distributed, but opportunity is not,” said Brooke Barnett, Butler’s provost and vice president for academic affairs. “We’re really trying to tap into those students who would benefit from this type of program.”

Robertson Hall at Butler University on Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Claire Rafford / Mirror Indy

A tried and tested model

Butler’s two-year degree program isn’t a new concept. The model started at Arrupe College in Loyola University Chicago in 2015.

After the success of Arrupe, Come to Believe Network formed to bring programs like it to other schools. So far, universities in St. Paul, Minnesota, and New York also have opened or announced two-year colleges.

The programs aim to attract students who are not already enrolling in community colleges — the traditional supplier of two-year degrees — and offer them another option.  

When Jonathan Larbi first heard about Arrupe College at Loyola’s downtown campus, he was skeptical. He was going to take out student loans to attend Loyola because he’d always planned to attend a four-year institution like his friends. 

But the financial support he was offered through the two-year college made it nearly impossible to say no, especially because he had a single mom and other siblings in college. 

But it wasn’t just the money; Larbi said he was immediately drawn in by the community at Arrupe. He’s appreciated the relationships he’s built with professors and said the school environment is one big family. 

“You can’t walk into Arrupe with your hoodie on and not be expected to get noticed,” Larbi said. “Because everybody knows each other and everybody communicates with each other, and that’s what makes it special.”

Now in his second year at Arrupe, Larbi said he’s “1000% sure” he made the right choice. He’s working toward his associate’s degree in liberal arts in pre-STEM and is planning to transfer to Loyola Chicago next year full-time to earn a degree in biology.

Students like Larbi are what the Rev. Steve Katsouros envisioned when he started Arrupe in 2015. He wanted to identify barriers for prospective college students and address them with a supportive, affordable college experience focused on community. 

“Oftentimes, these are students who are in high school who have family obligations,” said Katsouros, who founded the Come to Believe Network and serves as president and CEO. “Their parents really need them to be working once they graduate from high school. But they really are looking for a four-year degree, and we find that the two-year degree is a good first step.”

Most students from these model two-year colleges end up going onto four-year degree programs, and those supports baked into the program result in higher-than-average graduation rates. 

Come to Believe Network data shows that over 80% of students from two-year colleges like Arrupe transfer to four-year schools and 75% of students will graduate with a bachelor’s degree. That pales in comparison to Indiana, where the four-year graduation rate was just over 45% in 2021 and the six-year rate was around 66%, according to a report from the state’s Commission for Higher Education. 

That high matriculation rate was a major perk of the nonprofit’s model of this program for Butler, Barnett said.

Signs welcome students to Butler's campus
Signs welcome students to Butler’s campus on Dec. 7, 2023. Credit: Claire Rafford / Mirror Indy

The Butler way

Despite the draw of a degree, the cost of higher education is a major barrier for students wanting to go to college, especially at a private institution. Butler’s sticker-price tuition for 2023-24 is nearly $45,000 — not including housing. That’s more than three times higher than Indiana University, Purdue University and Ball State. 

Barnett said the two-year college will be different. The promise of minimal debt for students is based on students bringing state and federal financial aid, including Pell Grants and state Frank O’Bannon Grants to cover their associate’s degrees. Barnett said the university also is working to create an endowment to fund scholarships for students who want to continue onto a bachelor’s degree at Butler.

Should students choose that route, they will graduate with no more than $10,000 in debt, Barnett said. 

In addition to earning associate’s degrees in business or allied health, students also will take Butler’s core curriculum classes, which include classes like a first-year seminar course and a class on social justice and diversity

The plan is to integrate the students into the Butler community while offering support services unique to the two-year college — schedules that accommodate working students, for example, or an emergency fund. Students will come from Indianapolis-area high schools and commute to campus. 

“We try to say: What are the things that have made this a challenge and how do we build them into the system as features rather than barriers?” Barnett said. 

How to sign up and who’s eligible 

Since the first class of students will start in fall 2025, current high school juniors are the first cohort that will be eligible. The starting group will be around 100 students, Barnett said, with the program eventually expanding to 320 students. 

Barnett said Butler will work closely with high school counselors at area high schools to consider students for admission, and rely on teacher letters of recommendation.

Currently, the university is in the process of hiring a dean and faculty members to teach classes in the so-far-unnamed college, which will be located within the College of Education.

Admission for the first class of students will begin during the 2025-26 admissions cycle, but conversations with prospective students will continue throughout the next year. 

Students who are interested should reach out to Butler University at twoyearcollege@butler.edu to learn more. They can also submit a questionnaire to request more information.

“If, as we’re describing this, you hear yourself in this opportunity,” Barnett said, “Please, let’s talk more and see if this might be the right opportunity for you.”

Mirror Indy will continue to report on the broadening landscape of higher education in Indianapolis, including how new two-year degree programs such as Butler’s will affect Indiana’s primary community college network, Ivy Tech.

Claire Rafford covers higher education for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.

She can be reached at claire.rafford@mirrorindy.org. Follow her on X/Twitter @clairerafford or on Instagram @clairerafford. 

Claire Rafford covers higher ed for Mirror Indy in partnership with Open Campus.