Outside DePaul University's student center, on the urban Lincoln Park campus, is a limestone statue of Msgr. John Egan, a Catholic priest and civil rights advocate in Chicago. Below his enormous figure is an inscription that reads: "What are you doing for justice?"
At DePaul, challenging the status quo and making a difference are long-running traditions. Vincentian priests founded the university in 1898 to educate the children of immigrants. DePaul was one of the first Roman Catholic universities to welcome women, African-Americans, and Jewish students.
Today, students are keeping those traditions alive by going after polluters in low-income neighborhoods, tutoring the city's immigrant kids, empowering indigenous women in Mexico, and even fasting occasionally to protest university policies. "I feel that a lot of times college can be about 'How can I make the most money?' " says Katie McNamara, a political science major who graduated in June. "But, honestly, that's not how my brain works, and that's a product of being here for four years."
McNamara has volunteered at a shelter for homeless women and at a clinic that offers legal services for undocumented immigrants. She also spent six months in Mérida, Mexico, where she started a basketball and yoga program. "Pretty much all of my friends are as community service-obsessed as I am," says McNamara, who graduated with a minor in community service studies and Spanish.
DePaul undergraduates take classes on the downtown Loop campus and on the main campus in historic Lincoln Park. Both are bursting at the seams; with a total enrollment of 24,352 students, DePaul is the largest Catholic university in the country. Nearly 30 percent of incoming freshmen are the first in their families to attend college.
But with growth come challenges. The university can't accommodate all students who apply for campus housing, and some have trouble finding housing on their own. The university has responded by holding housing fairs. So far, class sizes have stayed small (few have more than 40 students), and professors enforce strict attendance: Four absences and you can fail a course. Says Mia Robidoux, a freshman majoring in English: "All of my professors know me by my first name."
In fact, students like Robidoux get to know professors and the city as soon as they arrive on campus. All freshmen are required to participate in "Discover Chicago" or "Explore Chicago," courses that combine academic study with learning about the city.
More About DePaul
Plus factor: The school's service learning programs match students with 250 community groups in Chicago and around the world.
Undergrad enrollment, fall '08: 15,782
Est. annual cost, 2009-10: $37,959
Chicago Road Trip
- DePaul University
- Illinois Institute of Technology
- Northwestern University
- University of Illinois-Chicago