Dougherty Family College offers students a great start


A two-year college through the University of St. Thomas is tailored to motivated, underrepresented students who have encountered barriers in pursuing a college degree.
Founded in 2017, the Dougherty Family College (DFC) provide its students, whom they call scholars, with financial, academic, and personal supports.
Dougherty scholars demonstrate financial need, solid academic achievement (2.5 GPA or above) and a strong desire to succeed. The average, annual out-of-pocket cost for a FAFSA filer is $2,970. However, almost half of DFC scholars paid $1,030 this academic year. In addition, DFC provides each student with a laptop, textbooks, meals while on campus, and a Metro pass.
Scholars are automatically enrolled in courses that will prepare them to move into their bachelor’s degree program at St. Thomas or another university or college, once they’ve completed their associate degree.
DFC provides their students with a path forward.

Meet the dean
Dr. Buffy Smith has been the interim dean of DFC since October 2020. She has been a faculty member at the University of St. Thomas since 2004, and was appointed DFC founding associate dean of academics in 2016.
She said, “I see myself through the experiences of our scholars, over 70% of whom are first generation college students. I was the first person in my family to go to college. I was raised by my phenomenal mother and grandmother; we were rich in faith – but not rich in resources.
“We received public assistance and lived in public housing in my hometown of Milwaukee. Neither my mother nor grandmother was able to pursue their college degree, but they always emphasized the value of me pursuing mine.”

Cohort-learning fosters community
According to Dr. Smith, “DFC scholars are part of a smaller cohort that functions like extended family: sharing meals and recreational activities, fostering a sense of connection and belonging. The cohort model provides a level of peer support that is essential for academic success.”

Mentoring fosters success
Dr. Smith continued, “Mentoring is another crucial component of our college experience. Mentoring is what helps our scholars persevere. We’ve had more than 200 graduates to date, and 75% of our grads are currently enrolled in bachelor’s degree programs.
“Every scholar is assigned a faculty or staff mentor, and they meet at least once a month. Their conversations focus on issues that might impact learning: pressures that are work related, family related, or related to other social relationships.
“Mentors also help scholars navigate the hidden curriculum of higher education. The hidden curriculum refers to social and cultural norms of higher education that impact scholars’ success, such as establishing positive relationships with faculty and staff.
“At DFC, we encourage scholars to ask a lot of questions and seek support early and often. We empower scholars to bring their authentic selves, cultural backgrounds, social backgrounds, and unique perspectives to college.”

Culturally responsible teaching
DFC scholars take the same courses as all other University of St. Thomas students, and those courses are taught with the same academic rigor. Within DFC however, professors select textbooks and readings that reflect the rich and diverse cultural backgrounds of the scholars. Dr. Smith said, “We know that college is not only possible – but that with structured, culturally affirming supports – graduation is inevitable.
“We want our scholars to see themselves as being future public intellectuals. Almost 50% of DFC staff and faculty identify as being members of the BIPOC community, as do 90% of our scholars. Young people must be able to see themselves not just as consumers of knowledge, but as soon-to-be authors and producers of knowledge.
“AT DFC, we help scholars develop the academic confidence they may not have gotten in grades K-12.”

Dougherty Family College
DFC is named after the founding co-benefactors Mike and Kathy Dougherty and their family. Mike Dougherty is a St. Thomas alumnus and trustee, and a Twin Cities businessman. The Dougherty family supports the college because they believe in the value of a college education, and want to give motivated, hardworking students the opportunity to succeed in college and beyond.
Dr. Smith said, “Many scholars start their bachelor’s degree program with relatively little debt. We encourage them to complete their four-year degree in five years. It’s more common to matriculate in six years. The first DFC class just graduated with their bachelor’s degrees from the University of St. Thomas. In the past, at least 10 DFC students each year have been awarded a full tuition scholarship to complete their bachelor’s degree. Our scholars are helping to level the playing field of higher education.”

Professional internship program
At DFC, opportunity is about more than just providing students a pathway to a degree – it’s about providing them a pathway to using it. Through the Professional Internship Program, scholars develop real-life, professional experience in paid internships across the Twin Cities.
Scholars are required to take a professional development course in the spring semester of their first year, where they learn about navigating workplace culture, leadership skills, communication, and more. They work fulltime in a paid internship during the summer and continue in their internship one day per week during their second school year.
Approximately 38 local corporations, non-profits and schools are currently partnered with DFC, giving them access to a pool of diverse, highly motivated students earlier than most other internship programs. If interested in partnering with DFC to offer a new internship opportunity, email
DFC is located on the university’s downtown Minneapolis campus. For more information, visit the Dougherty Family College website at


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