American Southwest belatedly draws Catholic colleges

Even though Catholicism has a long history in the American Southwest and Latinos there are an influential demographic force in the church, Catholic colleges are just being established in the region, according to America magazine (May 13). Jonathan Malesic reports that while the few Catholic colleges that were established in the region in the past failed to take root, the massive demographic shift toward Hispanic Catholics has now convinced Catholic institutions to transplant or invest in schools in the Southwest. These include a Benedictine University of Illinois campus in Mesa, Arizona, Mary College at ASU, a joint venture of the University of Mary of North Dakota and Arizona State University, and Catholic University of America’s new campus in Tucson, which is being started with the help of a $2 million grant from the Charles Koch Foundation.

Despite the demographic shift, Latino Catholics have had lower rates of educational attainment than other Catholics and have experienced more financial struggle in getting an education. Even though Southwestern Catholic dioceses are among the largest in the country and Catholic school students are a natural constituency for these fledgling colleges, parents have been hesitant to send their children to these institutions because of a lack of name recognition and a concern for their viability. The most unique effort is the cooperative Mary College at ASU, with the college offering courses toward a major and a minor in theology and Catholic studies while ASU students can transfer such credits to satisfy general education requirements. The effort is seen as an “innovative model for Catholic higher education going forward,” Malesic writes.