Butler University Creates 2-Year Debt-Free College Degree to Help Underserved Students

Photo by Jonathan Weiss/Alamy

Butler University is a private liberal arts college founded in 1855. Pictured here in 2020.


Butler University will become the third college in the U.S. to join a network that offers a two-year, debt-free associate degree program for students with demonstrated financial need, university President James Danko announced Friday.

After earning an associate’s degree, the new program will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree from the university for about $10,000, Danko said. Fixed tuition at Butler University for the 2023-2024 academic year was $44,990, according to the university’s website.

“We were founded in 1855 by an abolitionist who strongly believed that education should be available to people outside of what was then predominantly, obviously, white males,” Danko told CNN.

“We weren’t living our founder’s dream … it caused a lot of conversation and discussion about how are you going to issue a degree? What would the type of student look like?’

The new program aims to help students of color, first-generation students and students from low-income households obtain a higher education. Danko said the university will begin enrolling students in the two-year college next year for the fall semester of 2025. It will be funded through grants and donations, he added.

Butler’s debt relief program comes four months after the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling effectively ended affirmative action at colleges and universities that benefited students of color in higher education, CNN previously reported.

The program was created in partnership with the Come to Believe Network, an organization that provides consulting services to traditional four-year universities like Butler that want to create an affordable college program.

The network launched two similar colleges at Loyola University in Chicago and the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with the goal of making college affordable and accessible to all students.

At Loyola’s Arrupe College, at least 76 percent of students are expected to graduate debt-free after completing the program, according to the school’s website.

For students who qualify for federal student aid at Dougherty Family College at the University of St. Thomas, the average out-of-pocket payment is $2,970 for the 2020-2021 academic year.

Carlos Martinez, special projects manager for the Come to Believe Network and an Arrupe College graduate, said his experience in Loyola’s program provided him with not only a debt-free education, but also a sense of community.

“Yes, they did offer a lot of financial support. I didn’t have to take out any student loans at all. But what made it was the environment, the people there, the community, how caring everyone is,” Martinez told CNN.

Martinez went on to graduate from Loyola University with a bachelor’s degree in 2021 and is currently pursuing graduate studies at George Washington University.

Elaziah Davison is a student at Believe Circle City High School, a public charter school for traditionally underserved students in Indianapolis. He was able to get his associate’s degree debt-free from a similar dual enrollment program at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana.

Davison said he thinks universities should invest in more debt-free college programs to create a path to higher education for students from underserved families.

“When you think about how you’re going to pay for college and how expensive it is … a lot of stress and a lot of trauma reactions from not having things you need throughout your life can come up,” Davison said.

“When you think about all the hard work that goes into getting you into those classes, it really shows you that education is important.”

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *