By Dr. Bill Henk — Somehow it seems only fitting — two exceptional educational enterprises with shared Jesuit roots working together toward the greater good. In this case, it means providing rare educational opportunities for deserving, low-income minority high school students.
That’s why the College of Education at Marquette University proudly announces its newest partnership with the Cristo Rey Network (CRN), a feasibility study to determine if such a high school will be right for the city of Milwaukee. The project became official when our application was formally approved by the Network’s board of trustees on August 20.
Working with Cristo Rey is hardly new for us at Marquette. For several years we’ve admitted graduates of Cristo Rey high schools, all of whom have participated in a unique corporate work-study program and a rigorous college preparatory curriculum. In fact, our institution became a National University Partner for Cristo Rey in 2011, and received a special award for our collaborative efforts at the CRN summit this past July.
Now, thanks to a generous lead gift from the Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, we’re going to build upon the mutually beneficial history we’ve enjoyed with the Network in a precedent-setting initiative. We’re gratified and honored to be the very first university in the country to sponsor such a feasibility study, one of several that are currently underway as Cristo Rey, already probably the largest network of interrelated schools in the country, seeks to increase to 50 sites in the next decade.
About Cristo Rey
For those not familiar with the Cristo Rey school model, the corporate work-study program pays for a majority of the cost of its students’ educations. Basically they attend tightly scheduled, intensified high school classes four days a week and job share at a local company a fifth day as part of a team.
Although Cristo Rey schools aim to serve economically-challenged students with limited educational options, they are open to students of all faiths and cultures. Each school in the network is accredited by a recognized regional association and offers a demanding curriculum designed for a high level of student engagement. Each school also has a religious sponsor, and of the 25 schools in the Cristo Rey Network, 11 are sponsored by a Jesuit entity.
Stories in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the Milwaukee Business Journal, the Catholic Herald, and the National Review have highlighted the program’s successes and the numbers are impressive. Nearly 100% of Cristo Rey graduates are accepted to college or university, and nearly 85% of them enroll. Approximately 350 Cristo Rey Network graduates have enrolled or graduated from an AJCU institution over the last 8 years. In addition, ongoing studies of college retention and degree completion rates already show very favorable results when compared to students of similar backgrounds. The success of the Cristo Rey Network has attracted a great deal of media attention including an informative and affirmating segment on 60 Minutes.
About Our Study
The Milwaukee feasibility study engages Marquette to do what we do best: conduct research around an important social problem – in this case, the lack of quality educational opportunities for urban school children and how we can help shape possible solutions. As a research university, we’re strongly positioned to do the data collection and objective analyses necessary to determine the school’s viability. Specifically, we’ll examine: (1) the interest of local shareholders, particularly families, in this type of schooling, (2) the willingness of the business community to support job placements, (3) the generosity of Milwaukee’s philanthropic interests, (4) the possible location and facility for the school, and (5) its sponsorship and governing board.
In recent weeks, Andy Stith, the study’s feasibility director, Jeff Snell, my Marquette University co-principal investigator, and I have been meeting with community leaders to introduce or reinforce the Cristo Rey concept and gauge initial interest. I’ll be eager to see where the study takes us as it progresses, but it’s important for everyone to keep in mind what the criteria for a successful study amounts to from the University’s perspective. Our work will be effective to the extent that we make an accurate assessment of whether the school is viable and sustainable, not whether it becomes a reality.
And by the way, the feasibility study aligns with the College of Education’s efforts to support K-12 Catholic schools throughout our region and beyond. It’s the same motivation exercised in our co-founding of the Greater Milwaukee Catholic Education Consortium (GMCEC), a highly regarded partnership of the five Catholic colleges and universities in our urban Archdiocese.
A Little History and the Future
For the record, the possibility of a Cristo Rey school in Milwaukee actually received consideration about three years ago. Interest seemed high among some community leaders, but religious sponsors are required by the Network for the study, and none stepped up. This time around Marquette University did. Why? Because exploring a Cristo Rey school matches our natural appreciation for Jesuit education and our ever-growing interest in social innovation.
As a Catholic, Jesuit university, Marquette sees a larger calling to be present in the community, particularly on education issues and particularly in Milwaukee where many schools have struggled. Not surprisingly then, I’m hopeful that through Cristo Rey, Marquette’s College of Education can continue to make meaningful contributions to Milwaukee’s urban education landscape.
In closing, I have to admit to a personal fondness for the Cristo Rey model as an educator. To my mind, learning about the expectations of the workplace before college will drive how students approach their studies once they matriculate. But I can’t let those sentiments influence the findings and recommendations of our work.
Still, how can you not love a school where students learn the true value of an education, because they literally have to earn it?