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Laura J. Gardner | The Journal Gazette
University of Saint Francis students walk by Mirror Lake after the opening convocation Wednesday. This year, the university has enrolled a record 2,366 students, who were encouraged during the ceremony to “extend, engage and excel.”

Saint Francis not sitting still

Enrollment grows to record 2,366

When six pioneering nuns arrived in Indiana in 1875, their mission was clear-cut – to educate the poor and heal the sick.

That mission was accomplished and continues to flourish at the University of Saint Francis, founded by the Sisters of St. Francis of Perpetual Adoration in 1890.

At an opening convocation Wednesday, Sister M. Elise Kriss, the university’s president, welcomed 2,366 students, up slightly from last year’s numbers and setting a new record for the school.

The school began as a healing ministry and continues that tradition today, with 40 percent of the student population involved in the school’s nursing programs.

“Even though we’re in some bad times, the university had a good time, financially,” Kriss said.

The increased enrollment was also aided by financial aid packages, retention initiatives and the development of unique learning experiences, Kriss said.

An estimated $13.5 million in institutional aid was awarded by the university, enabling the school to remain competitive with public institutions.

Kriss extolled the school’s philosophy to extend, engage and excel, and she urged students to do the same in their everyday lives.

The university has extended educational opportunities with the purchase of the new Performing Arts Center downtown – formerly the Scottish Rite Auditorium – the creation of the school’s new Virtual Campus for online programs, and the growth of programs and increased enrollment at University of Saint Francis Crown Point, Kriss said.

The new Crown Point campus opened in January 2011 and has grown from 46 to 185 students in a short period of time, she said.

Another extension of services is the Virtual Campus, which offers flexible adult learning programs in an eight-week accelerated course format.

The online campus has already enrolled 35 nursing and business students, and plans are under way to further expand the program, Kriss said.

She spoke of engagement with the community through the university’s Feed the Fort food drive, an annual service tribute to Martin Luther King Jr., and Formula for Life, a student-led 5K run/walk that generated more than $11,000 for a Haitian orphanage last year.

To hold steady on or show an increase in the number of students is a “huge accomplishment,” said Trois Hart, university spokesperson.

Enrollment projections for directly-out-of-high-school students are based on birth rates, Hart said.

Surrounding states – Michigan, Illinois, Ohio and Kentucky – are seeing declining enrollment numbers, while Indiana schools are holding steady or showing increases of up to 2 percent, Hart said. That population is key to the success of any university, including Saint Francis, where about 2,000 students are undergraduates.

Residency at Saint Francis is also strong, with 400 students now living on campus, she said.