Displaced New Orleans students seek classes in South Florida
By Suzy Valentine
Gulf Coast students displaced by Hurricane Katrina have approached Miami-Dade County colleges and universities with requests to attend classes, and hundreds are likely to be admitted.
Florida International University last week added 125 students to its 36,000 enrollment after inquiries began Aug. 30. The university plans to accommodate additional undergraduates this week.
"It's the last time we can let them on to courses," said Carmen Brown, director of undergraduate admissions. "It will be too much any later. They'll be behind in classes and emotional from the incident."
Ms. Brown said enrollees have transferred from the University of New Orleans and Delgado Community College in New Orleans.
The University of Miami heard from more than 400 people Aug. 31 inquiring about temporary transfers from schools such as Loyola and Tulane universities in the Big Easy.
"The calls started trickling in on Wednesday," said Paul Orehovec, vice president of enrollment management. "We took between 25 and 30 inquiries in the morning, and by the afternoon, we had heard from hundreds of people."
More than 100 of the inquiries from out of state have been ruled out. While UM can accommodate students in classes, it doesn't have the housing capacity for students who would have nowhere else to live.
FIU has capacity at its Biscayne Bay campus in the north of the county, but south campus University Park is full. Ms. Brown said the university has tried to help beyond providing tuition.
"People are relocating to South Florida for their children," she said. "Then there are the refugees. We heard from a family of five just living out of a car. The vice president, Coreen Webb, is helping find them accommodation and jobs. They have no money. Faculty members are opening their doors to people who need housing."
UM may be able to assist dozens of students, said Mr. Orehovec.
"A third of the calls were from out of state. We're telling those from outside Florida they should look elsewhere. We have taken inquiries from around the country," he said. "We're trying to accommodate as many as we can, mostly students who are of non-degree status. We're working on a case-by-case basis, and spaces are limited to courses that aren't already filled."
Florida Education Commissioner John Winn last week approved in-state funding for transferees at colleges and universities such as FIU. That translates to huge savings for transferees to Miami Dade College.
"Florida residents pay just $64.06 a credit," said Beverly Counts Rodrigues, the college's director of media relations. "Credits for students from out of state are $219.15. Now non-Florida residents are paying less than a third."
Mr. Orehovec said the refugee students would pay tuition, "but we'll be putting those funds in escrow. The last thing the university wants to be perceived as doing is cashing in. We just want to help out."
The university will provide other forms of assistance, he said. "We're trying to figure out other partnerships," said Mr. Orehovec. "Our information-technology staff could assist their counterparts in Louisiana, and our faculty could help theirs, too."
St. Thomas University is also accepting applications for transferal until Sept. 12.
Mr. Orehovec said he could empathize with victims of Hurricane Katrina.
"I know how it feels," he said. "My house blew away in Hurricane Andrew, and it was the assistance of neighbors that sustained me."