The tiny Jesuit campus was full of energy just hours before the St. Peter’s University basketball team departed for the third round of the NCAA men’s tournament on Wednesday.
Outside the student center, students dressed in the colors of the academy spread fresh cherry blossom petals from the trees. A video screen overlooking a busy street in the middle of the campus played inspiring messages: “Sweet History,” “Jersey City Tough” and “Shine, Peacocks Win!” The peacock — the university’s unusual mascot — — as jewelry wafting from the ears of the dean of the business school.
In the cafeteria, members of the basketball team eat lunch like any other—even though they became household names online last week as they made their way to Kentucky (one of the nation’s most prestigious college basketball programs) and Murray State. Shocking Victory University.
Sophomore and student government leader Antoinette Isula recalled watching her mom dance in the living room after they watched the Peacocks win over Kentucky together. “For many of us, it’s really a home away from home,” said Jana Khalil, a freshman and student government leader at St Peter’s University, “I’m glad others are seeing How great it is.”
Outside of Jersey City, not many people knew about St. Peter’s Church until last week. Then Google searches for the institution skyrocketed; at one point, the university’s website crashed.
It’s a story that’s been told before: “Cinderella” academy goes deep into March Madness and captures the moment of fame. But the moment was particularly striking at St. Peter’s, which ranks 279th in sports spending among 353 NCAA Division I teams. St. Peter didn’t really want to get here.
The impact of this moment extends far beyond athletics — especially as a small, tuition-dependent private college like St. Peters tries to recover from the pandemic-era blow to enrollment and finances.
Amid the excitement, St Peter’s leaders are grappling with how to use attention in a way that will benefit the university for years to come. Admissions experts say that while the short-term boom is fascinating, maintaining the momentum is easier said than done.
The university’s 30-acre campus spans several neighborhoods in Jersey City and is surrounded by brick apartment buildings, bustling Bergen Avenue and an array of restaurants with ties to countries around the world, reflecting the city’s ethnicity Diversity. St. Peter’s University primarily enrolls students from the region, known for its diversity. The student body is 48% Hispanic, 18% Black and 8% Asian.
Under the leadership of President Eugene J. Cornacchia, the university expanded its academic programs. In addition to launching its first doctoral program, the institution has recently established the Faculty of Nursing and Education.
Until this month, it certainly hadn’t been called a basketball school. Kentucky spent about $18 million on the men’s basketball program, more than double the $7 million St. Peter’s spent on the athletic department as a whole. The University of Kentucky has approximately 21,928 undergraduate students, while St. Peter’s University has 2,134.
Cornacchia watched this week’s events with a range of emotions. He said people had come out of the woods to support the team, pushing fundraising to unprecedented levels.
The shelves of the campus store are almost all tidied up. The university’s top Amazon vendor sold $40,000 in merchandise last week. Online orders come from 45 different states.
When Cornakia hired men’s basketball head coach Shaheen Holloway in 2018, he agreed to slightly increase the team’s budget to upgrade its facilities and assist with recruiting. Last fall, construction of a new 3,200-seat gym came to an end.
While the university has not always supported its athletics program as it does now, Cornacchia said athletics can enhance the student experience and support academic research by bringing funding to the institution.
The “great reward” for all this hustle, Cornacchia said, will be an influx of capital that the agency can use to improve affordability and accessibility. More than half of students are the first in their families to attend college, and the vast majority receive financial aid.
In many places, it is believed that athletics and academics are somehow at odds.
“In a lot of places, people think that sports and academics are somehow at odds,” he said. “I don’t know how much money that means for us in the long run, but whatever it is, we’re going to balance it very carefully. The relationship between sport and academia.”
The number of applications for admission to St Peter’s College has increased slightly. Over the past week, the admissions office has received calls from all over the country, many just wanting to congratulate and wish the team good luck, Elizabeth Sullivan said., Vice President of Enrollment Management and Marketing. She said her office is gearing up for interest in the next one to two years.
St. Peter’s University hopes to expand its enrollment to 2,500 undergraduates and 4,000 students, about 50 percent of whom live on campus, according to Angeline Boyer, director of university communications.
Whether Cinderella’s run actually produces lasting change in colleges and universities has been the subject of research and debate for some time.
There’s no question that athletics and school spirit can be major draws for prospective students, says David Strauss, head of consultancy Art & Science Group. But a glorious year doesn’t do the trick. “A one-time success can lead to a surge in attention, but it’s likely to be fleeting,” Strauss said.
A study published in Journal of Sports Economics It was found in 2020 that the unexpected success of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament had little impact on the number of applications received in the following years. But after the Cinderella run, first-year enrollments at private colleges increased by two years — a total of 4.4 percent.
Like many of her students, Mary-Kate Natus, dean of the Frank J. Guarini School of Business, has deep ties to the community. Her parents attended St Peter’s. Living in the area, she said, she was greeted with cheers as she walked into local businesses wearing St. Peter’s clothing.
On Wednesday, she sat in her office and pointed to the lobby, where students in the business consulting program are meeting with the university’s local business partners. Naatus said that in nearly 10 years of working with universities, businesses are now more excited than ever. She hopes it will continue to capitalize on the national attention in a way that promotes the university and the students themselves.
“It’s going to be the icebreaker for everyone who goes in for a job interview,” Naatus said. “We’re going to get more brand recognition, so I think it’s going to help students have an easy conversation.”
The excitement has also provided a much-needed boost to campus morale, which has taken a hit during the pandemic, said Mark Rotundo, a senior in political science and journalism.
“It was the first time I felt like I had the full college experience — going to games, yelling at our sports teams, wearing merchandise like every day,” Rotundo told chronicle. “It was an amazing, wonderful experience.”
Rotundo, editor of the campus newspaper, held a newsroom meeting on Wednesday to plan coverage. He and his team of student reporters huddled together in a cramped office, fingers swiping across the keyboard and scribbling notes.
as a leader St Peter’s Tribune, Rotundo is excited to have the opportunity to tell a story that is being featured in major news outlets across the country, and hopes the experience will help the newspaper recruit and demonstrate its value to new employees.
like 1000–Along with other members of the St. Peters community who have secured tickets from the college for the team’s next game, Rotundo will make a 90-mile trip to Philadelphia on Friday.
Tickets sold out in minutes. One of the few who didn’t go was spokesman Boyer. “I have to manage the ship here,” she told a colleague when asked for what might be the fourth time that afternoon. Resting on a table, Boyer’s nails are painted a deep peacock blue.
She laughed. “I might change my mind though, because really everyone is going.”