STEUBENVILLE, Ohio (CNS) -- In response to the unprecedented economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Franciscan University of Steubenville announced it will cover the remainder of tuition costs, after scholarships and grants have been applied, for the fall 2020 semester for all incoming full-time undergraduate students enrolled in its on-campus programs.
The university's plan, called "Step in Faith," was unanimously approved by the university's president and board of trustees April 18 and announced to students April 21.
Franciscan Father Dave Pivonka, the university's president, said in a statement: "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."
He added that university officials have "heard from many students whose concerns over the pandemic are making the decision to leave home for college more difficult. Also, many families and students have seen their ability to pay for college evaporate due to the economic impact of the coronavirus. We hope this unique response will help them to overcome these obstacles and uncertainties and step out in faith with us."
Funding for this tuition aid comes in part from the university's reserve funds. The idea for using this money was raised after Father Pivonka asked faculty and staff to join him in prayer for "fresh, creative, Holy Spirit-inspired ideas" to address the challenges the university and its students were facing due to the pandemic.
"I must say this is not what I was expecting, but after discernment and discussion, it seemed like an excellent way to provide for new students and their families, many of whom are now hesitant to commit to on-campus higher education," the priest said.
He said the initiative was certainly a step in faith for the university and added, "I seriously doubt we will ever do anything like this again. It will be difficult for us, but we think it's the right thing to do."
The program applies to new full-time on-campus undergraduate students and covers tuition after scholarships and grants, while students will be responsible for their fees, housing and meal plans.
"While the tuition coverage for fall 2020 goes to every new freshman and undergraduate transfer student regardless of their ability to pay, families for whom tuition payments are not a hardship -- as well as other benefactors -- have the opportunity to contribute to the 'Step in Faith Fund', which will help us help our students," Father Pivonka said.
"We are committing our resources, but we hope others will join us to make this a sustainable effort," he said.
Franciscan University has also created a special financial aid fund to assist returning students who are experiencing significant financial hardship due to COVID-19.