Address by the Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, C.M., to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs

March 12, 2007

The larger question today focuses on what is required to:

  • attract human capital
  • train human capital and
  • keep human capital.

I’ve been asked to speak to higher education’s role in this larger question. My experience is that universities are somewhat famous for overstating their roles in urban development, but they do have a role. Permit me in these 10 minutes to summarize them briefly, and then we can explore these more fully during our conversation. The conversation about how higher education can assist urban development takes several directions.

First, universities often point out that they are a notable segment of the local economy. Last academic year, there were:

  • 82 institutions of higher education in greater Chicago
  • Educating 249,000 students at last count—10 percent of them at DePaul 
  • Employing 61,000 people 
  • Granting 55,000 degrees
  • Bringing in revenues of $5.8 billion.

Often, an economic impact is also quoted, but these are notoriously unreliable as they depend on a multiplier that can range quite widely. I’ll spare you such an estimate tonight.

Universities provide the intellectual capital for the city’s efficient functioning. This is DePaul’s major contribution. We’re the largest private university in the Midwest, and 80 percent of our students remain in Chicagoland and build their lives and careers here. We recruit regionally (88 percent are from between St. Louis and Milwaukee), and that regional strategy creates a student body that chooses to remain in the region.

We’re known for the top accounting programs in the city; we produce many of the city’s judges; there isn’t a music pit or a theater company in the city that doesn’t rely on our music and theatre grads; we’re the second largest producer of teacher for the state; we produce 40 percent of all computer degrees in the state.

You get the idea. Universities provide the workforce. A study done by a University of Chicago professor and a Harvard University professor found that highly skilled regions—those with college-degreed residents of 20 percent or more—have increased population in recent decades by 45 percent. Regions with college-degreed populations of less than 10 percent have grown by only 13 percent.

Thus, any set of strategies for urban development can focus on creating a desired workforce, however that is defined. Depending on their location, universities can assist a local economy and anchor a neighborhood.

In the Loop alone, where there are 21 institutions of higher education at 41 locations, the regional impact on the output of goods and services $1.2 billion, creating more than 13,500 jobs. That does not include student spending of another $25 million.

At the dedication of the University Center of Chicago—or the UCC dormitory— on State Street, where 1,700 students are housed, Mayor Daley told the story of his father, who taught him never to count on businesses to steady a city’s economy. Businesses come and go. Instead, invest in institutions of health care, education and the arts. They stay, and they bring income to a region.

Thus, any set of strategies for urban development can focus on specific regions to be made more desirable, however that is defined.

In addition, universities bring experts to the region in important and useful areas. Jim Schilling of DePaul is widely considered one of the nation's top experts on real estate development. DePaul's Brian Havel is internationally known as an expert in aviation policy. All major higher education institutions have such experts.

Designers of strategies for urban development can turn to these experts. They can even request that a university create an expertise in a given area that is useful to the region.

Universities become sources of technological spin-offs and start-ups. North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, California’s Silicon Valley, and Boston’s development within the Route 128 circle, are all powerful examples. Faculty entrepreneurs want to stay near intellectual centers for talent to feed their start-ups and for access to bright colleagues at the edges of scientific development. Universities also serve as resources for the redesign of present businesses and the incubation others.

Thus, one possible set of strategies for urban development can look to creating the conditions in which such spin-offs can succeed.

But all this focuses on urban development in general. We’re here to talk more specifically about how we can support the city’s desire to become a more global city. There has been very little written about how universities contribute in this regard. Without the benefit of research then, permit me a few comments:

  • DePaul’s second-most active alumni chapter after Chicago is Hong Kong because of the MBAs we’ve offered there. 
  • The crown prince of Bahrain was in Chicago last week. He spoke to a dinner hosted by Mayor Daley to about 40 of us—some of you were there—where he talked about DePaul’s influence on his country. They’re betting a fair bit of their economy on the banking industry, but they didn’t have people from their own kingdom to populate it. So they invited DePaul to create an MBA for banking and have added three more degrees. 
  • The prince of Jordan is coming to Chicago in May because the government of Jordan is partnering with DePaul on graduate computer science education. 
  • The government of Thailand is partnering with us on English education for school teachers in Bangkok. 
  • China is using our law school for the consulting needed to rewrite its competition and intellectual property law. 
  • We’ve trained the judiciary of Iraq, assisted in the formation of three law schools—particularly their libraries—and assembled the research to write the new constitution. 
  • We’re opening a new campus for women in Nairobi. 
  • We organized an EU conference on non-profit management last summer.
  • Other universities are similarly involved in international strategic initiatives. What’s fascinating to me is how so many nations have sought DePaul to assist them with their strategies to enter the global world. If only Chicago could think that way.

    Which brings me to my suggestions. What should Chicago do to leverage the power of its higher education institutions to become a more global city? Let me propose six possibilities:

    • The match-making element between universities and corporations is missing.  Universities create new academic programs and research activities largely because faculty have specific interests.  The larger corporate community is not generally brought together to name what they see as needed for their growth and development.
    • The match-making element between city planning and university strategy is missing. 
    • DePaul would not have its College of Commerce in the historic Goldblatt's building without the city’s help.  We would not have created the new UCC dormitory with Roosevelt University and Columbia College without the city’s assistance.  It would be helpful for the city to continue to assist universities in very basic ways:
      • TIF financing and other approaches to support university development
      • Downtown student housing
      • Downtown faculty housing
      • Downtown childcare
      • Sufficient high-quality schools to attract high-level faculty with children.
    • Some universities incubate new businesses.  Perhaps there could be partnerships between the city and the universities to incubate new foreign companies. 
    • There are impressive “brain-drain” initiatives such as in Baltimore where 15 colleges are working together with businesses and government. In Philadelphia, knowledge industry partnerships between business, government and universities have connected students to internships and cultural opportunities. 
    • Look into Boston’s new structure.  Mayor Thomas Menino has named a higher-education liaison to encourage collaboration between the city’s goals and its colleges.  See if this is working.​

    I’m sure there are more examples. For now, please know of my gratitude for being asked to speak today. I look forward to our conversation on these topics.​​