Providence College soaring to new heights after basketball success

PROVIDENCE COLLEGE, according to president Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, said the success of the men's basketball team may have influenced more students to attend PC this year. Pictured from left are now former PC players Justin Minaya, Al Durham, Noah Horchler and Nate Watson after defeating the University of Richmond March 19 in the NCAA Tournament's second round. / AP FILE PHOTO/FRANK FRANKLIN II
PROVIDENCE COLLEGE, according to president Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard, said the success of the men's basketball team may have influenced more students to attend PC this year. Pictured from left are now former PC players Justin Minaya, Al Durham, Noah Horchler and Nate Watson after defeating the University of Richmond March 19 in the NCAA Tournament's second round. / AP FILE PHOTO/FRANK FRANKLIN II

PROVIDENCE – On a recent trip to Rome, Providence College President The Rev. Kenneth R. Sicard was donning a Friars athletics T-shirt as he was walking around the historic Italian city. Even while overseas and an ocean away from campus, it didn’t take long for others to recognize who he was and what he represented.

“People [in Rome] said ‘hey, go Friars!’, ” Sicard recalled. “Everywhere I’ve gone when I’ve traveled with Friar gear or even people who recognize me, they’re so excited about happened. Even when I’m not wearing anything identifiable, people recognize who I am and the first thing they say is ‘hey, go Friars!’ It’s been amazing.”

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The Dominican Friars institution saw significant momentum over the last year due in part to the success of the college’s men’s basketball team this past season, and also significant new academic programming coming soon.

The Friars, along with winning in 2021-22 the Big East Conference regular-season title for the first time in school history, advanced to the NCAA Tournament’s “Sweet Sixteen” round back in March before losing to eventual national champion University of Kansas.

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The PC school spirit, much like the team’s performance, at both home games inside the Dunkin’ Donuts Center and when the Friars traveled during the tournament was under a constant national spotlight. And according to Sicard – and PC’s incoming enrollment figures – prospective students took notice, and wanted to be part of that Friartown culture.

This fall, PC will have approximately 1,170 new students enrolling, the most the college has ever had for a new class, Sicard said. Additionally, Sicard said PC had a record number of applications come in for this year at 11,119, 314 more than the class of 2024.

While Sicard said the men’s basketball team didn’t influence the high application count, he said he’s sure the Friars’ success on the court – and the festive student atmosphere during those games – had influenced students to choose PC as their next stop in their education careers.

“When I was in Buffalo and Chicago [for the NCAA Tournament] and been to different games with high school seniors, I asked them ‘what are you thinking?’ And they said “oh Father, I’m going to PC,’” Sicard said. “I think [the men’s basketball team] certainly helped with the enrollment.”

THE REV. KENNETH R. Sicard, Providence College's president, said PC will have a college-record 1,170 newly enrolled students attending the college this fall. / PBN FILE PHOTO/
MICHAEL SALERNO
THE REV. KENNETH R. SICARD, Providence College’s president, said PC will have a college-record 1,170 newly enrolled students attending the college this fall. Also, PC is slated to build a new School of Nursing and Health Sciences on campus. / PBN FILE PHOTO/
MICHAEL SALERNO

PC is also using the men’s basketball team’s success in certain marketing activities to build up the college’s profile. PC spokesperson Steven Maurano said the team’s success was integrated into and highlighted in social media messaging to all constituents, direct email, and in-person communication with prospective students considering enrollment and their families.

“As an example of PC’s excellence, the men’s basketball program is an important element of PC’s identity, particularly outside the Northeast where it may be the first exposure for the college to a prospective student,” Maurano said. Sicard also noted Ed Cooley, PC’s men’s basketball coach who was named the 2022 Werner Ladder Naismith Coach Of The Year, as being one of PC’s “greatest ambassadors” both on campus and off.

Even though the men’s basketball program had past success at the NCAA national level – two Final Four appearances in 1973 and 1987, and an Elite Eight run in 1997 – Sicard said this year’s team meant more to PC because the college and all of Rhode Island wanted something to cheer after the COVID-19 pandemic made life bleak for the last two years.

Sicard also confirmed that PC is expected to receive money from the Big East Conference for the team’s strong 2021-22 season. Although currently unclear how much exactly PC will receive, Sicard said most of it will support the college’s athletic program.

Also, PC’s academics being on a national level is just as important to Sicard as the men’s basketball team’s performance. In Providence Business News’ July 23, 2021, cover story profiling Sicard, he said he wants PC to be nationally recognized as the premier liberal arts, Catholic college, calling it “an important part of our brand.”

“Our athletics program has put us on the map in many ways. But more important than that, we want our academic reputation to make us nationally recognized,” Sicard said at the time.

Now, PC is taking further steps to increase its national reputation academically. Sicard tells PBN that PC will establish a new School of Nursing and Health Sciences, which will be built on the campus’ east side near Eaton Street. He said the Rhode Island Board of Nursing gave PC initial approval on the new school, but needs final approval to move forward – Sicard expects that vote to take place this fall.

Sicard said further details on the new nursing and health sciences school are being ironed out at PC, but hopes to enroll students into the program beginning in the fall of 2023. If and when the new school comes online, Sicard expects PC’s enrollment to increase by an additional 100 new students per year, “building up to between 500 and 600 additional students” over the next five years.

Additionally, the college is currently developing undergraduate and graduate programs in each of the School of Professional Studies and the School of Business, Sicard said, encouraging leaders in those fields to “come up with some new and creative programs.” Sicard said those ideas will be clearly defined this fall. Plus, the college recently broke ground on the new 120,000-square-foot residence hall named after former longtime PC President Rev. Brian J. Shanley.

“There’s going to be good stuff happening [here at PC],” Sicard said.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at Bessette@PBN.com. You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.

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