De La Salle University was established in 1911 by the Catholic teaching congregation Brothers of the Christian Schools (FSC, from the Latin: Fratres Scholarum Christianarum). The congregation was founded in 1680 as a community of consecrated laymen by St. Jean-Baptiste de La Salle to conduct, “together and by association,” schools that he established first in the northern French city of Rheims, to touch the hearts particularly of poor children, and to inspire them with the Christian spirit. De La Salle’s vision of teachers who “teach minds, touch hearts, and transform lives” led him to document the best practices that would guide the Brothers in their conduct of schools, to introduce pedagogy that could be characterized as distinctly modern, and in 1685, to put up the first ever normal school. De La Salle was canonized on May 24, 1900, and in recognition of the educational innovations he pioneered that are carried on by the congregation he had founded, he was declared as the Patron Saint of Teachers by Pope Pius XII on May 15, 1950.
In 1901, three years after Spain ceded control of the Philippines to the United States, the Americans established a new public education system using English as the medium of instruction. The Catholic educational institutions in the country at that time, however, continued using Spanish as their medium, and this practice raised concerns that the Catholic children would lose out in the quest for leadership roles under the American administration. Meanwhile, the Brothers had by then established their presence in 35 countries, including the United States. Thus, the American Archbishop of Manila, Jeremiah Harty, turned to the Brothers to pave the way for the introduction of English-based quality Catholic education in the country. After some hesitation because the endeavor demanded teaching the sons of the economic elite rather than the poor, the Brothers eventually relented, conceding that “upper-class children also needed good moral and spiritual training.” On June 16, 1911, nine brothers from Europe and the United States opened in the district of Paco, just outside the walls of the old city of Manila, the first La Salle school in the Philippines.
Through most of its history until shortly before it became a university, the school accepted only male students. Classes started in the new Lasallian school with 125 pupils at the primary and secondary levels. On February 12, 1912, the school was incorporated as De La Salle College (DLSC) and was granted permission to confer commercial high school diplomas in the same year. The first group of DLSC graduates—three students—received their diplomas in 1915. The college started offering a two-year Associate in Arts program in Commerce in 1920. With its population rising to 425 students, the college transferred to its present location in 1921. The college had by then established its reputation as an excellent business school. In a study made by the Board of Educational Survey in 1924, DLSC was acknowledged as the best private school in the Philippines. In 1931, after adding a year to its commerce program, DLSC would offer its first Bachelor’s Degree program.
Because it was located on the outer edge of Manila, the college was allowed to remain open for much of World War II, absorbing students from other schools that had closed, even while Japanese forces occupied part of the campus. The massacre of 16 brothers and 25 other residents on February 1, 1945 during the Liberation of Manila finally forced its closure. Classes at both primary and secondary levels resumed in July of the same year. The Bachelor of Science in Commerce program was reopened in 1946 with a new four-year curriculum, and the next decade saw the College branching out into other fields: Engineering (1947), Arts and Sciences (1953), and Education (1959). The College ventured into graduate education with the Graduate School of Business Administration in 1960, followed by Education in 1963.
The end of the 1960’s saw the emergence of the Women’s Liberation Movement in the West and of student activism in the country. Responding to the changing times, De La Salle College held its first Student Council elections in 1969 and opened its doors to female students in 1973. From an initial group of 38 froshies, the female student population would in twenty years constitute about half of the student body.
De La Salle College was granted university status on February 19, 1975. It has since then become De La Salle University (DLSU). To deal with rising student population at both the basic and higher-education levels, the Brothers opened a new school in 1978—the De La Salle Santiago Zobel School in Muntinlupa (a then rising suburb to the south of Manila)—to phase out and transfer the primary and secondary schools from the University. The last grade school pupils on Taft Avenue graduated in 1983 and since then, De La Salle University has been solely a higher-education institution.
The College of Career Development was established in 1980 as a night school for working students. It eventually evolved into the College of Saint Benilde (CSB) in 1988. CSB became autonomous in 1994 and is now known as De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde.
Maturing into its new status as a university and responding to the economic conditions of the times, the University shifted from a semestral calendar to a trimestral system in 1981. The College of Computer Studies was established in the same year, while the College of Arts and Science was split into two—the College of Liberal Arts and the College of Science—the following year. The student population of the University grew from around 3,000 in 1981 to about 10,000 by the end of the decade. Withdrawing from the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1981, DLSU was accepted to the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP) in 1986.
DLSU began its bid to become a research university in the 1990’s, steadily increasing the number of faculty members with doctorates through recruitment and faculty development. Research expenditures rose, and the investment translated into a robust increase in the university’s research output. As its centennial year drew near, the Philippine Lasallian community framed the Lasallian Guiding Principles (LGP) in 2003. These guiding principles directed the subsequent framing and institution of the Lasallian Pedagogical Framework (LPF) and the Lasallian Core Curriculum (LCC) in 2004. In 2008, the same principles were applied in the formulation of the Expected Lasallian Graduate Attributes (ELGAs).
Living up to its aim of serving the nation, the University established the College of Law in 2009 to contribute to a heightened awareness of human rights in Philippine society and to play a critical role in human rights advocacy. In 2010, the College of Business and Economics—which the original College of Commerce had evolved into—was split into the College of Business and the School of Economics to give the well-regarded Economics Department more leverage in fulfilling its role of influencing national policy development.