Joliet, Ill. – As the University of St. Francis continues to celebrate its history throughout 2020, Joliet’s only four-year university is also working to lay the foundation for its next 100 years. One way the university hopes to accomplish this is through the establishment of the new “Will County Access Initiative”, which is a full-tuition scholarship that will benefit academically-talented commuter students from under-served populations, who dream of earning a college degree. It is important to note is that all students who meet the established qualifications will receive the scholarship.

“The ‘Will County Access Initiative’ is a mission-inspired approach to offering a high-quality, private university education to students who may have never realized that this option was open to them. This will create additional opportunities for local students to earn their college degrees without the worry of incurring student loan debt,” said USF president Arvid Johnson, Ph.D.

“This initiative has been authorized by our Board of Trustees as a result of the continued, spectacular success of Caritas 2020 and in affirmation of our mission – especially in light of our Centennial celebration.  A USF degree has meaningful, lifetime value and prepares students to meet the challenges and potential of an uncertain future.  Higher education helps people learn more and earn more, helps students build skills and knowledge that launches and sustains careers, and supports the communities in which those students live and work,” Johnson added.

Financial support made available in the form of initiatives such as the “Will County Access Initiative” play an important role for USF students. Each year, over half of USF’s incoming freshman class is comprised of first-generation college students, which means that these students are the first in their family to attend college.  Over the past ten years, an average of 58% of incoming freshmen have been first-generation college students. Responding to this need is important to the university’s sponsor Sisters, the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate.

“The Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate are proud and excited that our sponsored ministry, the University of St. Francis, has identified this important way to celebrate its centennial and continue our mission,” said Sister Dolores Zemont, OSF, president of the Sisters of St. Francis of Mary Immaculate.  “Our congregation has always been committed to respond to the needs of those we serve, and this is a perfect example of that commitment.  We are very grateful to USF for this and for all that they do to carry out the mission of our congregation.”

To qualify for the “Will County Access Initiative”, which will be awarded beginning with the fall 2020 semester, applicants must:

  • reside in Will County;
  • attend a Will County high school;
  • have and maintain a minimum 3.6 high school grade-point-average or higher (on a 4.0 scale);
  • file a FAFSA (Free Application for Student Aid) by December 1 of each year attendance at USF is anticipated;
  • qualify for financial aid with a $0 Expected Family Contribution;
  • be a United States citizen and Illinois resident (parents listed on the FAFSA are also Illinois residents);
  • be admitted to USF as a new freshman;
  • not be coming to USF as a student-athlete (Scholarship athletes at USF are not eligible for this program.), and;
  • enroll and stay enrolled in a baccalaureate degree program for at least 12 hours during fall and spring semesters.

USF trustee Cheryl McCarthy, Ed.D., sees the university’s new initiative as a fitting way to celebrate the centennial.

“The scholarship opportunity is a perfect way to celebrate the centennial. As a first generation graduate, I know how many barriers one must go through to attain a degree. This scholarship will provide the opportunity to develop our future leaders and put them in a position to serve their communities. It will also provide hope for talented and motivated students who cannot fathom how they could ever afford the opportunity of attending the University of St. Francis,” she said.

Eric Wignall, USF vice president for admissions, enrollment services and marketing, agrees with McCarthy and envisions a positive impact resulting from the new initiative.  

“Recognizing that Will County will increasingly require a population of skilled, imaginative citizen-leaders, USF has created the ‘Will County Access Initiative’ as a commitment to college attainment and success. With this program, USF can open its doors to students and families in need of significant financial support in order to help make college affordable, significantly increase college degree attainment, and reduce student debt,” he said.

Wignall added that he feels that the “Will County Access Initiative” will help to raise the awareness of area high school students of the high-quality, higher education opportunities that USF offers.

“We’ve found that many local students often don’t look seriously at USF because they don’t know about our scholarships or believe their financial aid somehow doesn’t work at a private university – especially a private university as highly-ranked and regarded as the University of St. Francis.  It does, and we offer some amazing scholarships in our attempt to attract intelligent, highly-motivated students,” Wignall said.

Even with the financial assistance USF offers, Wignall knows that parents will remain understandably concerned about the challenges associated with tuition and fees.

“Two years ago, Sallie Mae issued a report titled How America Pays for College, which found that parents contributed the largest amount of the financial support for college students across the United States.  Almost 34% of college costs came from parental contributions, with 28% covered by scholarships and grants and some 24% paid for by loans,” Wignall said.

To get the word out about the “Will County Access Initiative”, USF will make a concerted, strategic effort to publicize this to Will County schools, as well as through social media.  USF also encourages the community to share information about this scholarship opportunity with any Will County high school students they know.  Even if a student does not qualify for the “Will County Access Initiative”, the University of St. Francis provides over $20 million in institutional aid to its students each year – in terms of academic, athletic, and need-based scholarships – which also makes earning a USF degree a possibility.

USF is currently accepting applications for the “Will County Access Initiative”. Visit to apply for enrollment, and then visit for more scholarship information.

Currently celebrating 100 years of higher education rooted in our Franciscan values of respect, integrity, service, and compassion, the University of St. Francis, in Joliet, IL, serves close to 4,000 students nationwide and offers undergraduate, graduate, doctoral and certificate programs in the arts and sciences, business, education, nursing and social work – both on-campus and on-line.  There are over 50,000 USF alumni across the globe.  For information, call 800-735-7500 or visit

University of St. Francis: Bigger thinking. Brighter purpose.

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