Founded in 1920, the University of St. Francis was originally intended to educate young women who were joining the Congregation of the Third Order of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate, an order of nuns who taught in parish schools and cared for orphans in the Chicago metropolitan area. Within five years the school had opened to women outside the convent, then became coeducational in 1971, during a period when single-gender schools became less popular. Today the University of St. Francis is one of the most trusted and respected small liberal arts colleges in the region, ranked in the U.S. News & World Report top Midwestern colleges for over a decade, and frequently noted as a top online educator as well.
While USF’s curriculum is based in the tradition of the liberal arts, the University of St. Francis is a comprehensive university, with undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral degrees offered. USF offers dozens of undergraduate majors in conventional areas covered by the classical liberal arts, from the humanities to the sciences, but the university is best known for its professional programs, adult education, and, in recent years, online offerings. Small class sizes, a low student:faculty ratio, and strong student support give St. Francis students the kind of experience typically associated with the small liberal arts college, but with the resources of a major research university.
Today, off-campus enrollment – including adult education programs and online programs – far outnumbers the small on-campus enrollment (2100 to 1700). Besides extension programs, USF offers online bachelor’s degree completion programs for adult students in business, healthcare leadership, and nursing, all acclaimed by ranking agencies as being among the best online bachelor’s degrees. A slew of graduate programs (on campus and online) in business, education, and nursing have made USF an important provider of key professional graduates in Illinois and beyond.
Founded in Franciscan ideals of peace, justice, and wisdom, the University of St. Francis puts Catholic faith at the center of its curriculum and its student life. All faiths are welcome at USF, and while half the student body is Catholic, a quarter claims non-Christian or no religious affiliation. In keeping with Catholic values, USF is highly diverse, with nearly a third of the student body belonging to a minority group. Thought USF has been coed for more than 40 years, over 60% of the student body is made up of women.
With the student body split between traditional on-campus students and non-traditional commuting and online students, conventional student life is a little different. On-campus students have a multitude of clubs and organizations to join, from honor societies and Greek life to a number of musical ensembles, but USF makes sure that commuting and adult students are not left out of student events either. The Fighting Saints – with a St. Bernard as their mascot – compete in 20 NAIA varsity sports, but the integration of physical competition, intellectual development, and spiritual growth is still emphasized in every aspect of USF athletics.