Office of the President > Speeches & Communications > 2018–2019 > Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast 2019

Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast 2019

Remarks delivered by President A. Gabriel Esteban, Ph.D.​, at the Celebrating Catholic Education Breakfast

Jan. 18, 2019

Good morning. I would like to acknowledge His Eminence, Blase Cardinal Cupich, Archbishop of Chicago, President of Illinois State Senate and State Senator from the 6th district, John Cullerton, DePaul Trustee Jessica Sarowitz, Loyola University president Jo Ann Rooney, Dr. Jim Rigg, distinguished guests, and colleagues.

I’m honored to be here with you this morning and thank the Archdiocese for the invitation.

My wife, Jo, and I spent the last couple of weeks in Asia, including the Philippines, with some Board members and just returned last Tuesday. I participated in the first ever meeting of Vincentian university presidents in Manila hosted by Adamson University. By coincidence, while in Manila, the city celebrated the feast of the Black Nazarene, the second largest religious festival in the Philippines with over 5 million participants. Thus, our trip gave me the chance to pause and reflect on my own Catholic upbringing and how a Catholic education affected me personally. 

Today, I have been asked to speak about the transformative power of an education. Specifically, I will describe how Catholic education has the power to transform a person’s life, society and the Church. 

In Romans, Paul describes transformation as “the renewing of your mind.”

The scripture says: “Do not conform yourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and pleasing and perfect.” (Romans 12:2)  

What better place to renew your mind than the classroom? 

I’ll share two of my personal beliefs based on lived experience: 
  1. A high-quality education has transformative powers. 
  2. The future of the Catholic faith depends on Catholic education.
I was born and raised in the Philippines, in a suburb of Manila. It wasn’t like a typical suburb you would find here in Chicago. It was remote – my neighbors raised hogs, goats and chickens.

I attended a Catholic school and grew up in a devout family. We were not affluent, nor were we poor. We were middle income, but that doesn’t mean a lot in a poor country. 

My mother was a high school teacher at the Catholic school I attended. My father was a trained physician, but the only time he practiced medicine was in the charity clinics he ran on the weekend. Like my mother, he also found his home in the classroom, teaching gross anatomy and histology at the University of Philippines’ College of Medicine.  

Thus from an early age, I observed firsthand the value of an education.

I met my wife, Jo, in the math club at the University of the Philippines. We graduated, got jobs, went on to get graduate degrees but the political circumstances in the Philippines at the time made life challenging. We had our dreams but living under a dictatorship had its limitations. 

For us, more education was the answer.

We were blessed to receive assistantships and scholarships to continue our graduate studies in the United States. Jo earned her MBA at the University of California, Riverside. I completed my master’s in Japanese business studies at Chaminade University in Honolulu then pursued a doctorate in business administration at the University of California, Irvine.  

Higher education brought us to this country. It opened new doors to us. We did our part and worked hard. We advanced. It was a dream come true for us.

Today, I have the honor and privilege of serving as president at DePaul University, the country’s largest Catholic university. I personally experienced the transformative power of education.  

Before I became president of DePaul University, I served as president and provost at another Catholic institution, Seton Hall University, for many years. The combination of my Catholic upbringing and more than a decade of leading Catholic institutions taught me many things – most of all: 

A Catholic education not only has the power to transform an individual, it also has the ability to transform society. 

One of the cornerstones of American society is the belief that higher education is a driver of social mobility. The American Dream, if you will. But according to Opportunity Insights, a nonprofit organization based at Harvard University, the American Dream is rapidly fading. 

This research group found that social mobility existed for about 90 percent of those born in 1940. So if you were born in 1940, you had a 90 percent chance of moving to an income bracket that was higher than that of your parents. By the 1980s, social mobility fell to 50 percent. 

And it’s continued to fall. Mobility has fallen in all 50 states – the biggest drops were in Michigan and Illinois. The study says the drop is due to a lower gross domestic product and greater inequality in the distribution of growth. Is the American dream really fading for our future generations? 

Recent outcomes from Catholic institutions would suggest otherwise. 

According to the Association of Catholic Colleges and Universities, students receiving a Pell Grant, the federal financial aid package, made up 28 percent of the student population at Catholic colleges and universities in 2015-16. The average Pell award at Catholic colleges and universities is $4,200, compared to the national average of $3,800. And the average graduation rate for Pell recipients at Catholic colleges and universities is above the national average at 56 percent.

True to our mission, Catholic colleges and universities offer pathways for lower-income students to excel. We have much work to do to open our doors even wider, but we hope to transform the socioeconomic structure in this country with every new graduating class.

At DePaul, for example, we like to say we’re a private university with a very public mission. 

Much like our K-12 Catholic schools and sister institutions, DePaul began as a school for the city’s principal immigrant groups. In the case of DePaul, German and Irish immigrants. From its earliest days, DePaul welcomed first-generation and immigrant students. In fact, DePaul welcomed students of all faiths at a time when it was unheard of at other Catholic institutions. 

Who do we serve today?

In this year’s freshman class, for example:
  • 32 percent received Pell grants - higher than the Catholic average and the state’s flagship institution
  • 33 percent are first-generation college students
  • 44 percent of the freshman class are students of color 
  • And freshman enrollment in the University Honors Program is up more than 25 percent since last year
DePaul enrolls more Pell recipients than 92 percent of all colleges and universities in the U.S. We also graduate them at a higher rate than other universities with a similar number of Pell students.

According to The Third Way, a national think tank, 47 percent of Pell students graduate in six years compared to the non-Pell students who graduate at a 60 percent rate. 

As I mentioned earlier, the ACCU reports the six-year graduation rate for Pell eligible students at all Catholic colleges and universities at 56 percent which is 9 percentage points above the national average. This is indeed reason to cheer.

At DePaul, 69 percent of our Pell recipients graduate and 71 percent of our non-Pell students graduate in six years.

But if we’re talking about how Catholic institutions transform society, we need to look at career outcomes too. And this is where the social mobility part comes in. Are we opening the doors to greater opportunity for low-income students? 

DePaul has been very successful in moving our first-generation, lower-income students into their career of choice. In the Class of 2017, 61 percent of all undergraduate students completed at least one internship. And 92 percent of all undergraduates had jobs or enrolled in further education within six months of graduation. This is significantly above the national average. 

Our namesake, St. Vincent de Paul, believed in the transformative power of education. We constantly seek new ways to put our mission to work every single day. That’s why last November, DePaul introduced two new $20,000 a year scholarship programs to increase access. 

The Catholic Heritage Scholarship will provide a renewable $20,000 scholarship to graduates of Illinois’ Catholic high schools who have a grade point average of 3.7 or higher and are admitted to DePaul as full-time freshmen. The Chicago Promise Scholarship will offer the same to Chicago Public Schools graduates who meet the same qualifications. 

These scholarships effectively bring the tuition of a high-quality private university to a level that is close to the published tuition and fees of the state’s flagship public university. 

That’s DePaul’s mission at work. It is a mission of transformation. It’s a recommitment to our Catholic, Vincentian roots. 

I’ll repeat what I said earlier: the future of the Catholic faith depends on Catholic education. In a city where Catholic schools are closing, it is more important now than ever to seek ways to grow, partner with, and strengthen Catholic educational institutions at all levels. 

This past fall, DePaul enrolled 148 freshmen from Chicago’s Catholic high schools, and we’re happy to see the number of applicants increasing. Applicants from Chicago’s Catholic high schools increased by 13 percent this past year and with our new initiatives, we expect it will increase even more. 

Looking again at social mobility, DePaul students who graduated from Chicago’s Catholic high schools are more likely to be Pell eligible and students of color compared to Catholic freshmen overall. Graduates from Chicago’s Catholic schools also are more likely than their Catholic peers from public schools to enroll in DePaul’s honors program. 

Collaborating with Chicago’s Catholic high schools is a high priority for us and our sister institutions. We take many steps to make DePaul University the first choice for Catholic high school students after graduation. 

Our collaboration with DePaul College Prep, for example, began when it was Gordon Technical High School. The school was on the brink of closing when the Archdiocese approached DePaul and asked if they could simply use the university’s name. 

We offered to do more than only lend the name. DePaul helped develop curricula and student programs to enhance the school’s academic offerings. We created professional development programs for its teachers and staff. We developed the high school’s STEAM Lab. The high school students now have access to our summer classes, where they can earn college credit. Incoming high school freshmen participate in the DePaul Summer Experience program, where they learn about the college selection process, career preparedness, team building and academic success skills. We transformed the school not only with the DePaul name, but by the work that goes on inside. 

It’s been five years since Gordon Tech became DePaul College Prep. Enrollment has grown 10 percent each year with a current enrollment of 500 students. The Class of 2018 had a 100 percent college acceptance rate. Eighty percent of their students participate in clubs, extra-curricular activities and athletics. Twenty-four international baccalaureate students have earned college credit since 2016. And true to its Catholic tradition, DePaul College Prep students completed more than 10,000 service hours during the last academic year. 

In addition to DePaul College Prep, our faculty and staff work with several Chicago Catholic schools - St. Alphonsus Academy, De La Salle Institute, Old St. Mary’s School, Guerin College Prep High School and St. Laurence High School. We provide professional development, curriculum consultation, coaching and support for the teachers as well as a leadership development program for new principals. 

We also are working with the Anti-Violence Office at the Archdiocese of Chicago to launch a new forum called, “Do Justice; Make Peace.” This program would reach every Catholic school in Chicago, providing “social emotional learning” tools customized to local need – everything from mindfulness training to trauma-informed teaching.    

How can a Catholic university truly transform the Church? 

We make sure our Catholic students have many opportunities to remain grounded in their faith. 

Just as with our sister institutions across the country, DePaul has an active Catholic Campus Ministry. We partner with the St. Vincent de Paul parish to offer a student mass every Sunday. From the choir to preparing the altar, our students plan every aspect of the mass. Nearly 20 student leaders currently volunteer in the parish’s soup kitchen that operates six days a week. And we currently have 13 students enrolled in the Catholic Learning Community, where they take Catholic Studies classes and visit parishes to experience social service programs in action. In June, these students will receive a certificate of recognition from the Archdiocese. We also have an active LatinX Catholic student group.

The majority of the students who participate in our ministry programs graduated from Catholic high schools. They were active in their youth ministries, and we want them to stay that way in college. Our goal is to keep their Catholic faith strong and help them grow as leaders so that they will go on to be active in their own parishes. That’s how the future generation will keep the Catholic faith alive and thriving. 

I’ll close with a story about a DePaul alumnus. 

In December, DePaul announced a new partnership with the City Colleges of Chicago – specifically, the creation of the DePaul Harold Washington Academy. It will be a first-of-its-kind partnership, providing Chicago Public School students with an affordable pathway to a bachelor’s degree. The academy will be located on our Loop Campus and will serve approximately 100 Chicago Star Scholars in its first year. Once these students complete their associate degrees, they will be offered admission to DePaul. 

Jay Borchert heard a story about the new partnership on WBEZ. He sent us a letter to share how he personally benefited from a similar pathway at DePaul. 

Jay is an ex-convict. When he was released from prison in his middle age, he knew that he wouldn’t get anywhere without a college degree. He started classes at Harold Washington, because it was affordable and structured in a way to ease his transition into college. After two successful years at Harold Washington, Jay received a transfer scholarship to DePaul University, where he thrived. 

He wrote: “During my time at both schools, I earned only one A-, which I was not happy at all to receive. Aside from that, my time at DePaul was perfect.” 

He sang in the Gospel and liturgical choirs. He traveled to Ecuador for a Vincentian Service Immersion trip. He studied abroad in Kenya and participated in Vincentian Service Days.  He received the Vincentian Heritage Award. He became a McNair Scholar and served as a research assistant. At graduation, he had the distinct honor of leading the procession to the Church for the Baccalaureate Mass. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s in sociology. 

Jay went on to pursue a Ph.D. in sociology at the University of Michigan. Today, he is a visiting professor in the Department of Sociology at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice at CUNY. He also co-founded a non-profit organization, the Formerly Incarcerated College Graduate’s Network, which has nearly 3,000 members.

Jay is the epitome of transformation. Now he is helping transform others by giving former inmates the same opportunity he received.  He credits his continued success to the Catholic, Vincentian experience he received at DePaul. 

He writes, “I have three degrees and so many life experiences that for me truly are rooted in my experience at DePaul. Vincentian principles guide much of my daily life and my classrooms.” 

The beauty of transformation is that it often becomes circular. The values taught in Catholic schools only enhance this effect. One person at a time; one community at a time; one Church at a time. A high-quality education rooted in Catholic values is indeed a powerful thing. 

Thank you for your attention this morning. Please enjoy the rest of your day.