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Schools open doors to displaced students

Schools throughout the South are opening their doors to thousands of college students affected by Hurricane Katrina.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Katie Maucher was a freshman at Tulane University for just a few hours.

She was in New Orleans long enough to meet her new roommate before she fled town on Saturday for her home on the South Carolina coast. Watching Hurricane Katrina slam into the Gulf Coast, Maucher realized she would not be returning there anytime soon, and she quickly enrolled at the College of Charleston.

Thousands of students affected by Katrina were forced to improvise on their fall-semester plans, and many were inquiring about taking classes elsewhere.

Dozens of colleges around the country said they would help displaced students find spaces, and extended deadlines, waived application fees and promised to streamline paperwork. The federal Education Department also pledged to relax student-loan guidelines to help transferring students.

Dozens of schools damaged
The American Council on Education estimates 75,000 to 100,000 college students in the New Orleans area have been affected by the storm, and close to three dozen universities in the region have been seriously damaged.

“It’s this feeling of being lost, like I should be there,” Maucher said. “I’ll make the best of the situation.”

The Tulane Web site said that within a few days the school “will be able to speak more confidently about a start date for the fall semester,” though the mayor of New Orleans has said the city will not be functional for at least two months.

Stephanie Philis of Port Washington, N.Y., was supposed to be starting her senior year at Tulane but skipped her flight Sunday after hearing about Katrina.

When the extent of the damage became clear, she contacted New York University, where she had taken summer classes, but was told it had no openings — “no exceptions” is what she was told.

Accepted on the spot
Columbia University’s School of Continuing Education told her to come in with her college grades, SAT scores and a statement about why she wanted to attend Columbia. She wrote it Thursday morning and was accepted on the spot, she said.

“Everything’s actually working out just fine,” said Philis, 21.

Other schools also bent their rules, from the University of Arkansas system, which offered free or reduced tuition, to the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, which said its members would admit anyone from Tulane, Loyola University of New Orleans, Xavier and the University of New Orleans. Texas Southern University also offered to hire displaced faculty.

Schools were also helping with relief efforts. Hundreds of Tulane students were bused to Jackson State University in Mississippi after the storm, but when power and plumbing failed there, the students were shifted to Atlanta or Dallas. The entire Tulane football team was at Southern Methodist University.

Rachel Chulew, 19, was driving to Tulane last week for her sophomore year but turned her car around and headed home to Phoenix, with plans to start classes at Arizona State on Thursday. A spokeswoman said the school had received numerous inquiries and was doing what it could to help.

“Everyone was pretty sure this semester was shot, but when you start realizing it could be longer than a semester, then everybody really started considering alternate plans, at least temporarily,” said Chulew, a business major. “My friends were calling me, and the first words out of their mouths were, ’So, what school are you transferring to?”’

The National Association for College Admission Counseling started a message board for updates on college conditions and options for displaced students at