With the cost of post-secondary education today, historically underserved students hardly dare to dream of earning a college degree. Until now.

Butler University is about to become one of the few institutions in the country to open a college designed to provide local underrepresented students with access to a degree—access that will create a pathway first to an associate’s degree, then to hands-on guidance transitioning to a Butler bachelor’s degree—with little to no student debt.

The new college, yet unnamed at the time of this printing, harkens back to Butler’s education-for-all roots and reinforces its reputation for innovation.* The college is based on the nationally recognized Come To Believe (CTB) model.

“Butler’s founder, Ovid Butler, was a radical in pre-Civil War Indiana because he actively and adamantly believed education should be available to everyone,” says Brooke Barnett, Butler Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs. “CTB is a new model of education. It’s a practical reality for students today who need a different approach to earning a college degree.”

Fr. Steve Katsouros, SJ, developed the nonprofit CTB Network (ctbnetwork.org) to provide select commuter colleges with a two-year model for giving underrepresented students access to a degree or the education necessary for meaningful employment. Butler’s version will apply the University’s tradition of a low student-to-faculty ratio and one-to-one help for students who want to continue to a four-year degree after attaining the two-year credential.

By supporting talented students who demonstrate potential but lack opportunity, Katsouros says, the CTB model addresses two consequential challenges for higher education.

“High tuition costs and student loan balances get in the way of upward mobility, and students who need the most resources are ending up in institutions with the least resources available to help them succeed,” he says.

Butler was one of only three institutions invited to apply for the inaugural CTB Design Grant, which funded a feasibility study. Butler’s adaptation of CTB is scheduled to launch with the fall 2025 semester.

The Come To Believe model

The CTB model, introduced at Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago and replicated at Dougherty Family College of the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota, has six key components to its design:

  • A college with dedicated pathways to a four-year degree within a robust university system
  • Intentionally designed to serve students historically underserved by higher ed
  • High-quality curriculum aligned with the broader University’s standards
  • Commitment to offering career services during enrollment and after graduation
  • Holistic student services
  • Willingness to make the experience affordable for students

In selecting Butler for its initial design grant cohort, Katsouros says Butler met these criteria along with needs for location, space, population, financial health, and robust employment. Still, one thing made the University stand out.

“It’s what made Butler so attractive: Leadership is into innovation. We were very impressed with President [James] Danko and Stephanie Hinshaw. Even before we partnered, they were looking for a way to offer a Butler education for less money. We’re delighted to be working with them. When the Board voted yes, it was a jubilant day for us,” he says.

Same Butler education, new delivery method

Butler’s CTB college will serve Indianapolis-area students who have demonstrated financial need. Students will commute to the Butler campus for morning or afternoon classes. The goal is to keep from forcing students to choose between college and a job or family obligations, says Hinshaw, who is Executive Director of the Butler Beyond Transformation Lab.

“Potential is everywhere and equally distributed in our world, but opportunity is not,” she says. “Butler’s interpretation of the CTB model will help local individuals who have great potential but don’t have the opportunities or access other students have.”

She stresses that Butler will still offer the high-quality curriculum it’s known for: intentional, challenging, and revelatory.

“We’re not lessening the quality or vigor of our education. Students will earn a respected credential grounded in our liberal arts tradition. The model allows us to deliver the same quality Butler education but in ways more suited to students’ needs,” she says.

Two of the biggest obstacles for historically underserved students have been student debt and scheduling. “For many students, the traditional residential college model isn’t doable. They may have to work or care for family members. They may have other reasons why they can’t live on campus. This model addresses those and other barriers and gives students options,” Hinshaw says. “Then there are first generation students who may need other kinds of support from their university. The CTB model includes holistic student support—embedded counselors, a one-stop shop, those sorts of resources.”

According to CTB, more than 90 percent of CTB students earn a two-year degree with little to no debt. Butler’s funding will come through a combination of aid and fundraising that Katsouros calls “Butlerizing the CTB model,” adding, “It reinforces that Butler is an innovator within higher education. This program will really differentiate Butler and should give them a place at the table in the national conversation about how to help underserved students.”