Ever Evolving, Always St. Kate’s

Ever Evolving, Always St. Kate’s

Reimagining adult learning.
By Julie Michener and Pauline Oo

St. Catherine University is at it again. Nearly 40 years ago, it made headlines for launching the first weekend education model for women in the Upper Midwest. This fall, it’s anticipating the needs of that group again, with a reimagined college for adult students that bestows certificates and degrees at the associate and baccalaureate levels.

Adult baccalaureate programs first appeared at St. Kate’s in September 1979. The Weekend College was the second of its kind in the nation and first in Minnesota. It offered four majors — business administration, promotional communications, social work and theology — and classes met three-and-a-half hours every other weekend, with independent-study assignments in between.

Then-president Sister Alberta Huber, CSJ, knew it was a gamble. But she forged ahead because she saw an emerging population of women — older than the traditional college-aged student and unable to attend during traditional Monday through Friday hours — in need of a degree. Although women in the first wave of Baby Boomers were entering the workforce in large numbers, many never had the chance to attend college, or had to drop out before completing their degree. Only 7 percent of women in Minnesota held a degree beyond high school.

St. Kate’s administrators hoped to attract 20 enrollees with this new Weekend College. Instead, they welcomed an eclectic group of 127. The women ranged in age from 16 to 56, averaging five years since their last formal education experience. Five students were widows, 60 were married, 39 were single and 20 were divorced. This initial group also had 201 children between them, two of whom were born after the term started.

“Weekend College was a radical idea designed to meet the needs of the times back then,” says Colleen Hegranes, executive vice president and provost. “At that point, technology was not as widely available or advanced as it is today. Weekend offerings were the only alternative available for students who could not fit the traditional daytime program into their lives.”

By 2008, the Weekend College offered 15 majors and five certificate programs, and served almost 900 students — 2 percent of whom were men. Though men were not eligible to receive their first baccalaureate at St. Kate’s, they could obtain a post-baccalaureate major (second major certificate), a graduate or associate degree.

In 2009, as St. Kate’s evolved from a college to a university, the Weekend College transitioned to the Evening/Weekend/Online Program, and began offering more flexible weeknight and hybrid (on campus and online) classes. Accelerated seven-and a-half week course schedules were also introduced as a convenient alternative to the traditional full semester.

Since then, however, the market has changed; namely, adult college offerings have grown exponentially. In Minnesota alone, the state Department of Higher Education website lists over 110 two- and four-year colleges and universities delivering adult and continuing education programs. Alternatives run from vocational and technical degrees at community colleges to fully online programs at for-profit institutions and graduate certificates offered through satellite locations in Fortune 500 offices.


So, what’s fueling this proliferation? Just like Sister Alberta identified back in the 1970s, it’s another mass wave of the population seeking new alternatives in higher education. According to a 2007 U.S. Department of Labor report, adults over age 24 make up about 44 percent of post-secondary students in the United States, and nearly 37 million more adults are interested in post-secondary and work-related courses, but find it too difficult to pursue due to family responsibilities, work obligations or other challenges.

The report further states that today’s adult students are self-directed and want a more practical way to learn.

They enroll in continuing education to earn a credential (certificate or degree) so they can get ahead in their current job or upgrade and expand their skills for a career move. These students are older (28 to 80) and have more life experiences than traditional first-time college students. More than half of them are also financially independent — almost 40 percent work full time — and 27 percent have children.

“They are ready to forge ahead in a new direction, but they are also looking for community,” says Brigette Marty, associate director of St. Kate’s Student Center and Activities Office, who counsels the Evening/Weekend/Online Student Advisory Board. “They have their eyes on the prize, but I see them develop strong relationships, gain inspiration from the learning process and grow into engaged learners, even though they don’t expect to, at first.”

Why? Unlike traditional college students, this population faces its own, unique set of barriers to success. The five biggies are self-doubt (Am I too old to go back to school?), time (Can I balance it all — work, school, parenting?), finances (How will I pay for this?), childcare (Who will look after my baby when I’m in class?) and genuine fears (Will I remember how to study?).


As a pioneer in this segment of higher education, St. Kate’s understands the unique needs of adults and stands ready with an innovative model to support them and promote their success.

Beginning this fall, St. Kate’s will launch an adult-centeredcollege to include an array of programs — associate and baccalaureate — from the University’s four schools. The degree options will blend the best practices of continuing education with the tripartite mission of the University. This means courses to accommodate busy schedules, offered on a year-round calendar with shorter terms. Yet, even with the accelerated schedules, the curriculum will incorporate the core elements of the liberal arts, Catholic Social Teaching and intellectual inquiry. There will also be a robust supply of support services (i.e. writing tutors and evening advisors) to accommodate student needs and challenges.

“We want to serve working adults by offering depth and breadth,” says Anne Weyandt ’83, dean of adult and applied education. “Our vision is to provide them with levels of connected learning that elevate their pursuit of meaningful careers and lives of dignity grounded in social justice. This new model also allows us to strengthen our historic position as a leader in this highly competitive adult learning market and clearly articulate the value of a St. Catherine degree.”

Students enrolling at St. Kate’s under this new model will have choices unlike ever before. They can start in an associate program in health science and, with degree in hand, progress — continuously or with breaks — toward a career-focused bachelor’s degree. Or, they can choose to enter directly into a baccalaureate program. They may then move on to the Graduate College to pursue a master’s and terminal degrees across a variety of fields.

Regardless of which direction or degree level they choose, adult learners will encounter clear, comprehensive pathways to reach their goals.

“Our ongoing commitment to serving nontraditional students seeking a St. Kate’s education is an important reflection of the way in which our founders and sponsors, the Sisters of St. Joseph, have always responded to the needs of the times,” says Mary Ann Brenden, associate professor of social work and a consociate with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

One thing that won’t change? The St. Kate’s commitment to creating a learning environment that celebrates the extraordinary ways women teach and learn. While opportunities for men enrolling at the University will expand from associate and graduate degrees to include first baccalaureates in the adult college setting, Brenden says men “who get it” — that gestalt of a woman-centered learning environment — will be able to access more diverse perspectives and develop a deeper understanding of women’s experiences and contributions.

And one last thing that’s absolutely certain? The College for Women — one of the largest in the United States to offer baccalaureate degrees for women only, not to mention the very heart of St. Catherine University — will remain exactly as its name implies.

Evening/Weekend/Online student Kara Becker ’15, MAOT’17 was the student speaker at December Commencement.

Photo: Rebecca Zenefski by Rebecca Studios

Katie Evolution: The Highlights

1905 –

Founded by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

1917 –

Earns full accreditation by North American Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

1937 –

Becomes first Catholic college or university in the nation to be awarded a Phi Beta Kappa chapter

1979 –

Opens Weekend College, the first baccalaureate program in Minnesota for nontraditional women students.

1987 –

First digital records of men in non-degree & second major certificates.

2000 –

Weekend enrollment reaches 954 students — a record high!

2005 –

Celebrates 100 years of educating women to lead and influence.

2009 –

Becomes St. Catherine University.

St. Kate’s Today

4,961  Total enrollment (fall 2015)
94%  Women
344  Faculty with terminal degrees

Photo: University Archives

St. Kate’s students with Derham Hall in the background.

Pauline Oo
MAOL Cert ’14, MBA '16

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Carol Evans-Smith

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