Seton Hall announced that it would offer a "free ninth semester" to some freshmen students enrolling in the fall 2020 semester last week. The announcement came just days after the School announced that it would walk back its plan to begin the semester in-person as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, citing New Jersey’s failure to enter Stage Three of its economic reopening.
According to an email sent to out to incoming freshman obtained by The Setonian and available on the Seton Hall website, the University said that it is making the offer to incoming freshmen in order for them to “feel confident that they will have all the time needed to fully engage in campus activities, study abroad, internships and research opportunities as well as pursue a double major or a minor.”
The free semester will only cover the tuition associated with undergraduate academic coursework and is contingent on students continuously being enrolled for a minimum of 15 credits each semester, three credits higher than the requirement to achieve fulltime student status.
The University says the offer will not be available to students who defer their admission, take a semester off or to those enrolled in joint degree programs, such as physical therapy.
Students who qualify for the free semester will be contacted during their senior year if they have not filed for graduation and would remain responsible for all room and board charges during the additional semester.
“Throughout the nation, this year’s first year students are beginning their higher education experience in the midst of the pandemic, which may limit their ability to get off to as robust a start as prior years’ students,” University spokesperson, Laurie Pine, told The Setonian in a statement. “The tuition-free ninth semester is designed to encourage these students to feel confident that, despite this pandemic, they will be able to fully engage in, and complete, the Seton Hall University learning and living experience.”
Pine also highlighted the University’s distribution of over $4 million in federal CARES Act relief money, as well as economic aid from Seton Hall’s Student Emergency Fund and travel grants to students who lost out on study abroad opportunities.
“Now, the ninth semester program has been created to assist our newest students as we welcome them into the Seton Hall community,” Pine said.
Still, the offer has met sharp criticism from some upperclassmen, one of which has started a change.org petition calling on the University to extend the offer to all of its students. As of press time, the petition has garnered over 270 signatures.
“Sophomores, Juniors, and Seniors have inexplicably been left out of this offer, while being sent home in March of 2020, leaving many to struggle through the remainder of the Spring 2020 [semester],” the petition reads, adding that many students have lost out on the same opportunities that Seton Hall used as the rationale to offer the free semester to freshmen in the first place.
“The struggles of the Class of 2021, Class of 2022, and Class of 2023 should not go unnoticed, and all students should be granted the same opportunity to pursue their studies in the midst of a global pandemic,” the petition continues.
Dominic Kozlowski, the Seton Hall sophomore majoring in Chemistry that initiated the petition said that his inspiration for it grew out of “a growing frustration with how the University had been handling this pandemic with their students.”
Kozlwoski said that he has had a number of issues with the way Seton Hall has responded to the pandemic, citing the University’s recently announced tuition increase, a lack of transparency in the announcement that freshmen would be offered an additional free semester and the fact that the opportunity was not extended to the entire student body.
“Had my mom not been a member of a ‘Seton Hall Parents Page’ on Facebook where someone posted screenshots of the email sent to freshman, there is a good chance this would have gone unnoticed,” Kozlowski said. “The article written on the school’s website was never posted on the homepage and the University’s social media never said anything about it either. The only way to find the article was to actively search for it in the search bar.”
“For the university to pride themselves on how well they treat their students and then do all of these things when they think no one is looking leaves a sour taste in my mouth,” He said. “I understand they need the short-term financial benefit from commitments of the freshman class, but to incentivize them like this in such a secretive manner is wrong, especially when the sophomores, juniors, and seniors are the ones that deserve this extra summer and fall semester, and could benefit greatly from it.”
“It’s unfair that the freshmen are able to receive an additional semester at no extra cost,” Aurora Kochersperger, a senior Diplomacy and International Relations major, said. “Since this opportunity is not available to all, and upperclassmen have been most affected by the pandemic, it is wrong of the University to exclude them from opportunity.”
Kochersperger also expressed worry about how this decision to offer a free semester to freshmen may impact the University’s decisions about future tuition hikes.
“As we all know, the tuition was increased this semester,” Kochersperger said. “Since the University is [now] allowing for free tuition for freshman, come next year we will see a greater increase to compensate any loss.”
Some students, such as senior public relations major Michael Gallucci, remain supportive of the University’s decision to offer the free ninth semester.
“I’m not bothered by later classes receiving a benefit we didn’t get, because if we want our university to be better and make decisions that help its students, it’s selfish for me to only celebrate those decisions if they help me personally,” Gallucci said. “I’m just glad that amidst the crisis and the backlash the school is getting for raising tuition that they’re doing something for the incoming freshmen who have already had their college experience negatively affected before day one.”
Some upperclassmen appeared to have learned the news initially on social media from sources such as SHUmemes, a Seton Hall-centered meme account, which posted a screenshot of the email sent to freshmen on Aug. 7 and a follow-up post on Tuesday evening satirizing the University’s decision.
“Is this a meme or is this true,” one Seton Hall sophomore, identified as “Anthony P” by his account, asked in the comments.
“Unfortunately, it is true,” SHUMemes replied.
“Not many people knew that this was being offered to the Class of 2024,” Luke TyIer, a junior finance major, said. “I only found out because my mom had read about it in a SHU parents Facebook group. It feels like they are trying to hide it since they know that upperclassmen want similar treatment.”
The decision has also led to criticism from some recent Seton Hall graduates, such as Ali Aljarrah (‘20), who graduated in the midst of the pandemic.
“I understand why they’re doing that now, especially since colleges are now competing to have bragging rights on what they did for their students during COVID,” Aljarrah said of the University’s announcement, “But for students who are about to graduate or have graduated, it’s like a stab in the back.”
Nicholas Kerr can be reached at email@example.com. Find him on Twitter @nickdotkerr.