Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Faithful to Its Mission

Magazine article Black Issues in Higher Education

Faithful to Its Mission

Article excerpt

Donnelly College Pri Second Chances to Inner-City Students

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Donnelly College is blessed with a gift. Despite repeated monetary incentives to move from its poor, inner-city environment, it has remained in a single nine-story brick building - an old hospital gutted and rebuilt into a place of learning.

For nearly half a century, the college has held fast to its gracious social and academic mission -- giving inner-city students a second chance.

Some suggest the private, Catholic-sponsored school is a rare gem in this struggling blue-collar city - and in a county where nearly 40 percent of adults lack high school diplomas and countless more fail in their first attempt at higher education.

"We provide second chances," beams Donnelly's president, Dr. John P. Murry, 63. "I think a lot of people in academics might laugh at us, call us 'Second Chance U.' That's fine. I take it as a compliment." Since 1949, when it was founded by Benedictine sisters, Donnelly's mission has remained constant: Give inner-city students - at least half of whom are living in poverty - a two-year college education and the promise of much more. Students, many of whom have dropped out of college before, pay tuition when they can. But Donnelly makes an irresistible offer to those who can't: The school pays most, if not all, tuition if the student simply shows up to class.

A Smart Investment

More than half of Donnelly's students come from families earning less than $6,000 a year. "It helps out a lot, believe me," says Kathaleen Dangerfield, 21, who got financial help from the school. She graduated in May with an associate's degree and plans to attend Pittsburg State University in the fall. "[With] the help that you get here, there's no doubt you can make it."

Numbers show Donnelly's investment in a needy student body has been a smart one. Since 1992, 93 percent or more of its graduates have gotten jobs or transferred to four-year colleges.

In May, Donnelly graduated 41 students and sent many of them to four-year schools. Next year, the school hopes to reach even more students by using money left to it by a priest who died of AIDS.

The college enrolls about 850 students a year, with a racial breakdown that is 52 percent African American, 17 percent Hispanic, 17 percent white, 10 percent international students, 3 percent Asian American and 1 percent American Indian.

Because 75 percent of Donnelly's students live here in Kansas City, Kan., most of them don't have to travel far to the school's modest, midtown neighborhood.

A Motivating Mission

The building is old but clean, and professors and instructors aren't paid very well - on average they earn $23,000 a year. But many on the faculty insist that Donnelly's mission - and not professional perks - motivates them.

The library's small collection is dusty and worn. Computer equipment, though advanced by Donnelly's standards, lags well behind vastly better funded schools such as the nearby Kansas City and Johnson County community colleges. Nevertheless, students thrive and often return Donnelly's favor.

One of them was George Breidenthal, 48, who graduated with an associate s degree in 1969. He's now president of the Kansas City, Kan., public school board and serves on Donnelly's 12-member Board of Trustees. Bad grades forced him out of Kansas State University after a year. Then he arrived at Donnelly, where college counselors urged him to start slow, taking nine credit hours of night school.

"That's what they're doing -- giving a chance to people who have had a few problems with their first shot at education," says Breidenthal. …

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