Future now: DePaul's innovative strategies draw national attention

Kris Gallagher
June 16, 2017

A spirit of innovation permeated the university throughout Fr. Holtschneider's presidency. DePaul pioneered everything from student support services to community partnerships, garnering attention and praise throughout the higher education sector. Fr. Holtschneider personally represented DePaul on the national stage while advancing higher education by serving as a member of the board of directors of the American Council on Education, a trustee of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, and chair of the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities.

In 2016, DePaul was ranked among the 25 most innovative universities in the nation by U.S. News & World Report.

DePaul innovates purposefully, guided by three successive strategic plans, the latest of which-Vision 2018-has five core goals:

1. Enhance academic quality and support educational innovation

2. Deepen the university's distinctive connection to the global city of Chicago

3. Strengthen DePaul's Catholic and Vincentian identity

4. Foster diversity and inclusion

5. Ensure a business model that builds the university's continued strength and educational excellence

Here are some of the key initiatives that are driving Vision 2018 to a successful conclusion.

Academic quality and innovation

Anticipating trends. When it comes to developing new programs, "Ideas come first," says David Miller, dean of the College of Computing and Digital Media (CDM). Take DePaul's thriving master's degree in predictive analytics, better known as big data, jointly offered by CDM and the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business.

"We were the first in the area to offer a sizable graduate program in big data," he says. "That's an example of our faculty looking forward, seeing that this was going to become a hot field and taking advantage of our ability to move quickly."

In 2006, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (now the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences [LAS]) launched a minor in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer studies, making DePaul the first Catholic university to offer one. LAS began offering a master's degree in refugee and forced migration studies in 2015, the first of its kind in the United States.

New facilities across campus. "Every college must have a proper home," Fr. Holtschneider often said. Once the new School of Music building is completed and opens in 2018, each college and school at DePaul-plus the John T. Richardson Library-will be in new or extensively renovated facilities. Renowned architects Pelli Clarke Pelli and Joseph Antunovich designed several of these buildings, including the Wintrust Arena at McCormick Square that will return DePaul basketball to Chicago.

The online advantage. Online courses are the modern expression of the flexibility DePaul has always offered its students, according to GianMario Besana, associate provost for global engagement and online learning. While DePaul's online courses are available in all 50 states, most students mix online and on-campus courses in Chicago. Thirteen percent of DePaul's credit hours now are being delivered online, and 23 degree programs are entirely online.

DePaul's successful embrace of online learning is due in large part to the DePaul Online Teaching Series (DOTS), created in 2008 to share best practices with faculty. More than 540 faculty members have completed the program, which won the national excellence award from the Sloan Consortium (now the Online Learning Consortium) in 2012.

Foster diversity and inclusion

A global campus. During the past dozen years, the study abroad program was centralized and streamlined, making it easier for faculty members to create trips. Short-term trips that are more affordable for students multiplied, and the [email protected] program offered scholarship support to help more students participate.

DePaul also brings the world to Chicago. The number of international students on campus has increased. Faculty members who have taught in other nations, often as part of DePaul degree programs held in countries such as Bahrain and Kenya, bring their experiences back to the classroom.

Students first. DePaul's high-touch innovations include launching the Learning Commons, a central location where students get help with math, writing and foreign languages as well as participate in study "jams." Mentorship programs, such as the Men of Color Initiative and Digital Divas, sprouted within colleges and across special-interest groups.

The university earned national recognition for its success implementing initiatives such as the McNair Scholars, a federally funded program that helps low-income and minority students prepare for doctoral study and academic careers. 

A sound business model

Many Dreams, One Mission. Fr. Holtschneider was recruited in part to build the development and alumni engagement efforts. The result was a fundraising campaign five times larger than DePaul had ever undertaken. The three-pronged, $250 million campaign focused on student scholarships, new buildings and endowed support for recruiting top-notch faculty. The Many Dreams, One Mission Campaign far outpaced that mark, raising more than $333 million, including $107 million for student scholarships.

The School of Hospitality Leadership in the Driehaus College of Business, hailed by industry leaders in Chicago's vibrant hospitality market after it opened in 2010, was one of the first new programs to benefit from the campaign. The campaign generated matching funds to complement a $7.5 million gift from the Hilton Foundation, enabling the school to open. Enrollment and employer praise surged. In 2015, every graduate found a job in the industry. 

Donors changed the footprint of the Lincoln Park Campus by making possible the construction of two science buildings, Arts & Letters Hall, the DePaul Art Museum, and new homes for The Theatre School and the School of Music. The endowment nearly doubled to $422 million.

Blue Demons rising. Fr. Holtschneider recognized that DePaul Athletics is about more than sports. It's a way to raise the university's profile nationally, capturing the interest of prospective students and making a DePaul degree recognizable to employers far from the Midwest.

As a member of the board of directors for the BIG EAST Conference, Fr. Holtschneider helped negotiate the BIG EAST's separation from universities with football teams, craft a contract that brought the Blue Demons unprecedented television coverage and retain Madison Square Garden as the home of the BIG EAST men's basketball tournament.

Over the past decade, DePaul renovated Wish Field and built Cacciatore Stadium (men's and women's soccer and women's softball), refurbished the Cherry Family Track at the Ray Meyer Fitness and Recreation Center (men's and women's indoor track) and upgraded the indoor golf practice facility. He forged relationships to increase the number of off-campus facilities available for practice and meets. Coaches and staff were included in DePaul's comprehensive compensation review, ensuring that Athletics can hire and retain high-achieving employees.

A strong Catholic and Vincentian identity

Catholic and Vincentian values have been emphasized and strengthened across the university through initiatives spearheaded by Fr. Holtschneider and the Rev. Edward R. Udovic, C.M. (LAS '76), senior executive for university mission, secretary of the university and vice president for teaching and learning resources. 

Scholarship is equally important to DePaul's identity, says Udovic: "The only way for DePaul to strengthen its Vincentian and Catholic identity is to explore, study, debate and then embody that identity inside and outside of the classroom."

Fr. Holtschneider says that DePaul became the world's preeminent center for Vincentian studies in 2007 when the Vincentian Mission Institute was founded and the Vincentian Studies Institute relocated to the university. Catholic scholarship also increased after faculty members created a separate degree program in Catholic studies.

DePaul also strengthened opportunities for spiritual practice. The St. Louise de Marillac Chapel opened on the Lincoln Park Campus in 2007. University Ministry increased outreach to students from all faith backgrounds, and DePaul created a campus Hillel Center for Jewish students and hired the university's first Islamic chaplain.

Through Fr. Holtschneider, DePaul became more tightly entwined with Catholic institutions throughout the metropolitan area. During his presidency, DePaul affiliated with the Catholic Theological Union, enhanced its relationship with Catholic schools and forged connections with Ascension, the world's largest Catholic health system. 

Read the original article in DePaul Magazine.