After months of planning a safe and socially distanced return to school, the Franciscan University of Steubenville welcomed over 700 new students to campus this fall, breaking its record for largest incoming class.
The fall 2020 undergraduate freshmen and transfer students add up to a total of 730 new faces on campus, according to Student Life Services. This is higher than last year’s total of 600 and the fall 2018 total of 680, which was the university’s previous record.
New students got to campus Aug. 20 for orientation, and they attended the freshman retreat the following weekend on Saturday, Aug. 29, at 11 a.m. in the Finnegan Fieldhouse.
In addition to both breaking a size record and having to begin college amidst a global pandemic, this class also stands out for some other unique characteristics.
There are 35 new international students this year, according to Student Life Services, coming from the countries of Austria, Bermuda, Canada, Ecuador, Gibraltar, Great Britain, Haiti, Ireland, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Singapore, Uganda, United Kingdom, Vietnam and Zambia.
Other characteristics of the class, however, are more typical of Franciscan students — the two most common majors among the class are pre-nursing and business and the most common male and female names are Joseph and Mary, respectively.
One of the university’s major initiatives to help its freshman class this semester was the Step in Faith fund, which was announced over the summer.
The fund covers 100% of tuition costs after other financial aid for the fall 2020 semester for all new on-campus, undergraduate students — whether freshman or transfer, residential or commuter. There is a donation portal for the fund on the university’s website.
In the press release announcing the initiative, the Rev. Dave Pivonka, TOR, university president, explained, “As a University, we feel called by God to ease the burden for students, so they can experience the irreplaceable value of a Franciscan University education. … We hope this unique response will help them to overcome these obstacles and uncertainties and step out in faith with us.”
Many freshmen did not shy away from showing how thankful they were for the fund. A group of them that had connected over the Class of 2024 Facebook group created a video montage thanking Pivonka and the rest of the university for the tuition aid. The video, scripted by freshman Stanley Colaço and edited by freshman Evelyn Lundy, has over 6,200 views on the university’s Instagram page.
Other accommodations made for the large incoming class regarded housing.
The Super 8 hotel at the bottom of the hill was converted into a dorm for the semester due to the “overwhelming response to Fr. Dave’s Step in Faith initiative,” wrote Alison Peleskey, manager of residential services, in an email to eligible residents this summer.
Franciscan is one of many Catholic universities that have decided to return to on-campus learning this fall.
Thomas Aquinas College and Christendom College, for example, have also welcomed students back onto their campuses. Catholic University of America, according to its website, has allowed freshmen to move in on campus but is utilizing online learning for sophomores, juniors and seniors.
Franciscan is monitoring its coronavirus case count on campus and has an online backup plan in place for the semester.