Since their inception in the 16th century, the mission of the Ursuline nuns has always revolved around educating young women. After more than 400 years, their legacy continues to shape female students in southwest Ohio.

Chatfield College in Brown County, established in 1971 by the Ursulines, expanded its campus into Cincinnati’s Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in 2007. Since then, the college has nearly quadrupled its female-dominated student body.

“The social mantra of the Ursulines is educating women and [Over-the-Rhine] seems to be the market where students and people are ready to better themselves,” says Pam Spencer, communications director for Chatfield College. “We’ve found a great opportunity to serve in Over-the-Rhine and it’s been a really good fit for us.”

With roughly 400 students, 85 percent of the Cincinnati’s campus consists of women. The median age is 28 years old, with many single mothers included.

Erica Tolbert, a 25-year-old mother of two from Over-the-Rhine, recently finished her first semester at Chatfield atop the Dean’s List. While she maintained a job at a fast food restaurant, she says the faculty and staff at Chatfield helped in all aspects of her education.

“I went to another college before and they didn’t tell me a lot in terms of available financial aid, or the right classes to take,” says Tolbert, who registered for classes after learning about Chatfield’s flexible schedules. She credits her academic advisor for keeping her informed about tuition assistance and degree requirements. The assistance has put Tolbert on a trajectory to graduate with a degree in education, so that she can achieve her goal of becoming a primary school teacher.

“The instructors understand. They know people have children and hectic work schedules. They’ve really stuck by my side and helped me so far,” says Tolbert.

Since moving to their current location near Findlay Market, the Catholic liberal arts college has offered two-year degrees with concentrations in human services, early childhood education and business. The popularity of the school and desire for education has swelled its population from 74 in 2009 to an expected 400 in 2014. To meet the growing demand, Chatfield has purchased an historic vacant building at the 1500 block of Central Parkway, about two blocks away from their current location in Findlay Market. The $2.75 million renovation will create 18,000 square feet of space—compared to the 6,000 square feet Chatfield currently has—that includes a chapel, an art room with a window-lined wall that faces Central Parkway and a state-of-the-art science lab.

“At this point, our focus is on the new building,” says Spencer. “We’ve outgrown our facility, and we have classes on Saturday and put [students] in board conference rooms. We want to provide a full-service college and we hope that with projected growth we will be serving 900 students.”