Loyola University of Chicago brought our attention to the world of the Jesuit Community Colleges with the opening of The Arrupe College of Loyola University Chicago this August 2015. A few weeks ago, we received news from Australia about a similar initiative that has been taking root since 2011: the Jesuit Community College promoted by Jesuit Social Services. We invited their team to offer insight into its history, vision and programs in order to encourage other community college initiatives to emerge across the world. 

Australian education and training institution Jesuit Community College has recently been approved to run new programs for participants with acquired brain injuries, as well as for people from Pacific Island communities in addition to its award-winning work with disadvantaged and vulnerable groups.

Jesuit Community College was opened in Melbourne in 2011 by Jesuit Social Services, a social change organisation with a vision of building a just society. At the time, the organisation had 34 years of experience working with marginalised people and staff were constantly recognising strong links between low levels of education, lack of job skills, crime, disadvantage and poverty among the participants of its programs. The College was established to reengage people on the margins of society by providing training and employment pathways to those who had previously missed out on opportunities.

Refugees and asylum seekers, long-term unemployed people, people exiting prison and transitioning back into the community, people with mental health problems and those who left school early and had insufficient skills to secure employment were among the core groups the College engaged with.

Over its four year lifespan, the College has grown from just a handful of students to the current cohort of around 1,200, who undertake a variety of courses from English language to vocational and creative skills. Current programs include a barista course, mechanics training, song writing and instrument tuition, and preparing for work in aged care roles. The College draws on the rich tradition of Jesuit education committed to 'care of the whole person' and to development of active and informed citizens.

“We believe that the most effective way to help people reach their potential is to help them participate more fully in society – and learning, training and employment is key to this,” said Jesuit Social Services chief executive Julie Edwards. “This also strengthens the broader community and builds a just society for everyone.”

Ms Edwards said people with an acquired brain injury can struggle with memory lapses, reduced concentration, poor problem solving skills and a lack of impulse control. “By tailoring courses specifically for this group of people we can ensure they have the best chance of gaining new and useful skills that maximise their opportunities in the community. Education is a key way for people to change their lives and find a pathway to a brighter future.”

Jesuit Community College has won several accolades for its work, including a Government of Victoria Community work Partnership Award for the “Fix the Cycle” program. Fix the Cycle is delivered in partnership with the Victorian Department of Justice, and works with men aged 18 to 25 on community corrections orders who repair and upgrade unwanted bicycles. These are then donated to children from disadvantaged backgrounds. Fix the Cycle aims to teach young offenders mechanical and teamwork skills, alongside improving their literacy and numeracy.

Ms Edwards said the College’s courses offered a number of benefits to participants, including routine and purpose, greater self-esteem and confidence, increased community participation, improved literacy and numeracy and a greater sense of themselves as learners. They also often resulted in accredited qualifications which could lead to employment. Recent figures suggest more than half of the long-term unemployed who complete the College’s hands-on hospitality training go on to find stable employment or further study.

To find out more about Jesuit Community College, see: http://www.jss.org.au/programs/all-programs/jesuit-community-college