As conditions along the Gulf Coast continue to deteriorate in the wake of one of the most devastating natural disasters in U.S. history, thousands of college students in more than a dozen institutions have been displaced as their campuses were ravaged by the force of Hurricane Katrina.
Such schools as Tulane University in New Orleans were left virtually wiped out by the storm, which took down trees, shut down power and left the campus inoperable (see "Gulf Coast Colleges, Students Grapple With Disaster"). Several colleges could be closed for a full semester — or even a year — according to the American Council on Education.
"This tragic event has impacted thousands of lives in the Gulf Coast region, and perhaps dozens of our member colleges and universities have suffered extensive physical damage to facilities ... [and] thousands of students enrolled for the fall semester have been displaced for the foreseeable future," ACE President David Ward said in a statement on Wednesday. "We have already been in touch with federal policy-makers to ensure that they are aware of the acute needs of colleges and universities in the region, and have identified policy changes that may be needed to help students and institutions cope with this unprecedented disaster."
Stuck in limbo, student evacuees must decide whether to wait it out or attempt to transfer to another institution — whether in another district or even another state — as the new school year begins.
"Children are being dislocated, literally," Deputy Education Secretary Ray Simon told The Associated Press. "They're homeless. They're traveling hundreds of miles to find temporary homes, which means they will also have to travel several hundred miles to find schools."
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Tulane students have been dispatched to campuses in nearby towns, including most recently Southern Methodist University in Dallas and Georgia Tech in Atlanta.
Meanwhile, other colleges across the country are moving to help other displaced students. George Washington University, Tufts University and the University of Florida are among the institutions that have told the ACE they are willing to take in students who want to transfer. Centenary College in Shreveport, Louisiana, has opened its doors to about 250 Dillard University students, who are currently staying in its field house.
"Students in areas affected by the hurricane may face delays of weeks or even months of having to access school facilities to obtain the necessary requirements for application to college, including admission tests, high school transcripts, letters of recommendation, essays, and other application materials," the National Association for College Admission Counseling reports.
The NACAC is actually discouraging students from jumping the gun too quickly to move to another institution, saying it "may not be in their best interest." The organization cautions students and their parents that many of the affected institutions may not be able to handle financial aid requests or tuition refund requests if a student chooses to leave.
Still, many institutions are willing to cater to the needs of evacuees. Delaware State University in Dover is offering to waive tuition for any displaced students affected by Katrina for the 2005 fall semester. Students must be enrolled in a college or university located in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana.
"[We] want to reach out and help the people of this affected region in these hard and tragic times," said DSU President Allen L. Sessoms. "Because we are a state university, we can offer a way for students there to continue their studies and not have to put ... their higher education on hold."
In support of a sister school affected by Katrina, Rice University in Houston will offer undergrads enrolled at Tulane the opportunity to take classes on the Rice campus on a space-available basis at no out-of-pocket expense, Rice President David Lebron announced Wednesday. With campus housing at capacity, no housing is available, however. Accepted students would start classes on September 14, four weeks into the fall semester.
To find out what you can do to help provide relief to victims of Katrina, head to think MTV's hurricane relief page.