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$7.5 million Gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation Allowing Chicago's  DePaul University
 to Open a School of Hospitality Leadership In its Business School
By Kathy Bergen, Chicago TribuneMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News

September 22, 2008 - Chicago's role as a training ground for tourism-industry managers will expand dramatically next fall when DePaul University launches a School of Hospitality Leadership in its business school with help from a $7.5 million gift from the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation.

The grant, to be formally announced Wednesday, is the second-largest private donation received by the university, which has committed to raising another $9.1 million to match it.

"We are talking to a number of other hotel chains," said Ray Whittington, dean of DePaul's College of Commerce.

With the funding, the school will establish a bachelor's degree program to prepare students for management of hotels, restaurants, convention facilities, tourism ventures and spas, which together form a critical cornerstone of the local economy.

"Chicago increasingly is becoming a place that welcomes people from all over the world," said Rev. Dennis Holtschneider, university president. "If we win the [bid for the] 2016 Olympics, all the better, but regardless, Chicago needs a school here for the industry."

The local industry, with its 100,000-plus hotel rooms and 15,000 restaurants, employs 293,000 workers, up 18 percent from five years ago, DePaul noted, adding that the sector is expected to continue growing and to experience a shortage of skilled employees.

Given the size of the sector, there should be plenty of demand for another program, said hospitality industry consultant Ted Mandigo, who is based in Elmhurst.

"There are only a couple of organizations locally that do four-year programs, and they are all kind of small," he said, citing Kendall College, Roosevelt University, Northern Illinois University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Mandigo, who teaches at Kendall, estimates those programs produce about 300 graduates annually.

The DePaul program will begin with 50 students and build to 400 to 500 students in the next four to five years, with about 100 graduating each year, Whittington said.

The program will include two years of liberal arts courses on the Lincoln Park campus, and two years of business courses at the downtown location.

Top-notch program

Hospitality expert Mark Eble said the DePaul undergraduate program likely will resemble those at such top hospitality schools as Cornell University and Michigan State University, which send graduates into junior management programs at top chains as well as smaller firms.

Those programs "can turn away 10 or 20 applicants for each one they accept, so there is pent-up demand," he said.

"I suspect [the DePaul program] will be far more of a business program than a trade program, added Eble, regional vice president for PKF Consulting. In that sense, he said, it will differ from many excellent training programs locally.

"In the old days, a generation ago, someone might start off as a waiter or front-desk clerk and work his way up, but that's a time frame that most big companies can't afford anymore," he said. "They need to hire kids who have been vetted by some university environment so they have the scores and skills to move quickly."

Diversity sought

While the DePaul program will aim to attract traditional undergraduates, it also will seek Chicago hospitality workers who want to advance into management but don't have the academic credentials.

One of the program's goals is to bring more minorities into the ranks of management, where they are underrepresented.

"Only 7 percent of U.S. hospitality managers are African-American and 6.5 percent are Hispanic," the university noted.

The nation's largest Catholic university, DePaul provides financial aid to 80 percent of its students, Whittington said, adding that he expects many hotel chains will help their employees with education costs.

DePaul has pulled together a high-powered advisory board that is helping with curriculum development, with representatives bringing experience from the likes of Hilton, Hyatt and McDonald's. Also lending a hand on the board is Arnold Weber, president emeritus of Northwestern University.

The ultimate goal is to add graduate degrees, continuing-education programs and a research center at the school.

Local Hilton ties

Conrad N. Hilton, the late founder of the Hilton Hotels, had some strong connections to Chicago.

In 1945, he purchased the Stevens Hotel on South Michigan Avenue, which had opened in 1927. The huge convention hotel, now the Hilton Chicago, was known as the Conrad Hilton between 1952 and 1985.

In 1947, his second son, Barron, was married at St. Vincent de Paul Church in Lincoln Park.

Based in Los Angeles, the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation philanthropy in 2006 made a $480,000 grant to DePaul to fund a bachelor's degree program for nuns from African congregations.

The latest grant was helped along by the presence of DePaul College of Law alumnus Gregory R. Dillon, vice chairman and director emeritus of Hilton Hotels Corp., on the Hilton foundation board.

"DePaul University is open to working adults, it has satellite campuses to make it easy for people who can't quit their jobs to get an education," said Brad Myers, program officer with the Hilton foundation. "It's DePaul's commitment to working people ... that made this particularly attractive."

The largest private donation made to DePaul came in 1990, when the Charles H. Kellstadt Foundation pledged $10 million to name DePaul's graduate school of business after the late Sears chairman.

kbergen@tribune.com

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