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DePaul Tops Midwest in Generating Social Mobility

“When I was in college, my formal economic status would have been classified as low-income," says Robert Arias, who graduated from DePaul in 2013 with a marketing degree.  “I lived with my mom and sister in two bedroom apartments on the far South Side, which took about three hours round trip to go to classes and work. I slept in the living room, and in the winter, my mom would use the oven to supplement the poor heating system."

Today, Arias is an assistant professor of marketing at John Carroll University.

“I'm renting a two bedroom apartment with plenty of space. Materially, the differences are quite drastic," he says.

Arias' experience, and that of many other alumni with similar stories, helps explain DePaul's No. 3 ranking in social mobility for Pell-eligible students among private universities in the United States.

The ranking by Education Reform Now, a nonprofit advocacy organization, placed DePaul at No. 52 among universities nationally for elevating low-income students' economic status, serving as a powerful proof point for the university's mission.

“Our fierce commitment to access is rooted in propelling students and their families up the economic ladder to change the trajectory of their lives," says A. Gabriel Esteban, president of DePaul. “As people increase their economic power, they reap many benefits, including better health outcomes, higher rates of homeownership, and less exposure to violence."

DePaul's sister Vincentian university, St. John's, followed closely at No. 8 among private universities and No. 79 overall. Meanwhile, Loyola University Chicago was ranked No. 108; Marquette No. 190; and Georgetown No. 283 overall.

“It is important to identify colleges and universities that are providing both access and successful outcomes to large numbers of students, transforming not just their lives but their communities and the nation," the report in Education Reform Now noted.

Erika Abad graduated from DePaul in 2005 with a bachelor's in Latin American/Latina/o Studies and a Spanish minor. The Illinois Monetary Award Program and Pell grants helped finance her education.

After a stint as an AmeriCorps volunteer, graduate school and “the rollercoaster of the professional job market between 2012 and 2016," Abad became an assistant professor in residence of interdisciplinary, gender and ethnic studies at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Fifteen years after earning her undergraduate degree, she feels stable enough economically to help her family.

“My siblings and I are in the position to begin talking about supporting my mother as she is considering retirement," she says.

Another recent social mobility ranking indicated DePaul leads many private national universities in improving graduates' economic strength. CollegeNet's analysis placed DePaul atop many of its national urban Catholic peers.

CollegeNet is a technology company that targets services to higher education. In this ranking DePaul came in at No. 639 of the 1,449 four-year schools analyzed, while Loyola ranked No. 991; Marquette No. 1013; and Georgetown No. 1089.

“Education Reform Now and CollegeNet used vastly different methodologies," says Joe Filkins, DePaul's associate director of institutional research and market analytics.

CollegeNet's ranking included variables that heavily favor public universities over privates in its formula. Publics have dramatically higher enrollments than most privates, lower in-state tuition and smaller endowments, according to Filkins.

Education Reform Now restricted its sample size to 614 schools, focusing on universities where at least 50 percent of Pell students graduated within six years and 75 percent were paying down their student loans within five years, among other criteria.  

Filkins suggests if ranking organizations calculated the tuition students actually pay, not the sticker price, they would present a more meaningful picture.

“Private universities give much more institutional aid than public universities," he says, and that increases their impact. Last year, DePaul gave $266 million in institutional aid to students.

Education Reform Now indicated its social mobility impact ranking was designed to recognize schools that “change the most lives." As a university where Pell-eligible freshmen have comprised about 30 percent of the class for the past decade, DePaul continues its quest to change as many lives for the better as possible.