There are 28 Jesuit colleges in the United States of varying sizes. Georgetown University, founded in 1789, is the oldest. Wheeling Jesuit University (WV) founded as Wheeling College in 1954, is the youngest. These schools have undergraduate student body sizes ranging from just over 1,000 (Wheeling Jesuit) to more than 11,000 (Loyola University-Chicago). These are Catholic colleges. The Jesuits are one of several orders within the Catholic Church.

Jesuit colleges are listed in various classes of colleges and universities. The College of the Holy Cross, for example, is a National Liberal Arts College while Boston College is a National Research University. However, these schools are often cross shopped against each other among students who seek a Catholic college. Several of these schools are also cross-shopped against colleges that are affiliated with other Catholic orders. For example, Boston College is considered against Villanova University (Augustinian), Providence College (Dominican Friars) and the University of Notre Dame (Holy Cross).

Jesuit colleges, while Catholic, welcome students of all faiths. While all students must take courses in philosophy and/or religion they are not required to take a specific course in Catholicism. Some embrace themes in marketing such as cura personalis (educate the whole person) or magis (being more than you are or believe you can be).

Some Jesuit college have higher profiles due to athletics. Boston College, for example, is the only Jesuit school that plays in a “Power Five” NCAA Division I football conference. Five Jesuit schools have won the NCAA National Championship in men’s basketball (Georgetown, Holy Cross, Loyola-Chicago, Marquette and the University of San Francisco) since tournament play began in 1939. Georgetown and Marquette remain relevant in major college basketball as do Saint Joseph’s University (PA), Gonzaga University (WA) and Xavier University (OH). The majority of the Jesuit schools compete in Division 1 sports, granting athletic scholarships.

When costs and numbers come into play, are Jesuit schools “good colleges” or “good values for the money”?  Colleges promote and manage services performed by people who have to deliver services well. Below are some quantifiable measures of these services that can be used, regardless of the size of the school.

  • Has the college successfully prepared a freshman class that decided to remain for their sophomore year?  This is a reflection not only of the admissions office and marketing, but also the first-year experience.
  • Can it successfully graduate a freshman class on time, within four years? These are private colleges often shopped by families who have sent their children to private or parochial high schools. A family’s return on investment is partly a reflection of the school’s ability to guide students towards a degree on time, excepting students who wish to continue on for an advanced degree at the same school or a partner school.
  • Has it done a better job at graduating a class than the larger public colleges that its students were most likely to consider? Families that have opted for private or parochial high schools may do in the belief that these schools will perform better than public schools. Such families would have the same expectation of a Jesuit college. I consider a 70 percent four-year graduation rate to be the standard of excellence for a private college. Twelve Jesuit schools attain or exceed this standard;   another, Xavier University (OH), exceeds 65 percent.
  • Is the college capable of assisting students who have significant financial need, so that they do not graduate with excessive debt? Their graduates will enter the same job market or pursue the same educational options as students who attend other private colleges as well as public colleges. If costs are an issue for a family then the family should attempt to match educational needs to financial needs.
  • Has it been able to graduate students in the health professions, sciences, mathematics and engineering?  Among faculty with doctorates, these professors could have considered offers from private industry versus academia. Given that most of these schools do not grant doctorates in these subjects—none offer doctorates in engineering—a faculty member’s decision to remain should be based on a desire to teach undergraduates. This should be reflected in the percentages of undergraduates who complete degrees in these subjects.

Based on these criteria, the following schools received A ratings:

  • Boston College (MA)
  • College of the Holy Cross (MA)
  • Fairfield University (CT)
  • Georgetown University (DC)
  • Santa Clara University (CA)

These schools came close and received B+ ratings

  • Creighton University (NE)
  • Fordham University (NY)
  • Gonzaga University (WA)
  • Loyola University (MD)
  • Saint Joseph’s University (PA)
  • University of Scranton (PA)

One of the concerns that I have noticed with Jesuit schools is student loan debt. The schools that receive ‘A’s’ had an average borrower indebtedness of less than $28,000 for their 2015 graduating class. The maximum that students can borrow over four years from the Federal Stafford Student Loan program is $27,000. All of the ‘B+’ schools, excluding Gonzaga, had average borrower debt in excess of $30,000. Gonzaga’s average borrower debt was approximately $29,500, $1,500 more than the ‘A’ rated schools.

I have visited seven Jesuit colleges in my travels (Fairfield, Fordham, Holy Cross, Loyola-Maryland, Saint Joseph’s, Santa Clara, Scranton). I have had little reason to fault the education at all of these schools. But also wish that the financial aid covered more need than it currently does. The Jesuit educational experience may be very good. But in many cases you might have to pay a premium to get it.

For more “inside baseball” about Jesuit colleges and other schools to help you in your college search, contact me at

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