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Saint Mary’s allows students displaced by storm to attend College

Megan O'Neil | Monday, September 12, 2005

While colleges across the country busied themselves collecting money and supplies to benefit Hurricane Katrina victims last week, Saint Mary’s took its response one step further and opened its enrollment to undergraduates displaced by the disaster.

College officials said they had developed an emergency admissions policy to assist students who were left without a school to attend after levees protecting New Orleans gave way Aug. 30, flooding the city.

Two such students, freshman Julie Prior and junior Vivian Mary Coney, had enrolled as of Friday.

“It was a decision reached by the president’s cabinet,” said Dan Meyer, Saint Mary’s vice president for enrollment management. “We had received calls to the admissions office asking if we would accept displaced students.”

Meyer said initially some administrators were hesitant to accept additional students because they would have to start the semester already two weeks behind.

However, after working with The National Catholic College Admissions Association and seeing the great need, Saint Mary’s decided to accommodate stranded undergraduates.

“I think we really felt from a moral standpoint that this was something that would make sense for us to do,” Meyer said.

College officials said they wanted to make the process as simple as possible and acknowledged the tremendous difficulties the incoming students had already faced.

“Under the new policy, qualifying students will be admitted as visiting students, defined as those attending on a temporary basis until they’re able to return to their original place of enrollment,” the College said in a statement. “Visiting student enrollment is based on the availability of classes and the college’s ability to offer coursework suitable to her intended program of study.”

Displaced students will be charged tuition equal to that of their original institution, the statement said. If students had already paid tuition to their intended school, no additional tuition would be charged by Saint Mary’s.

Prior, originally from the Chicago suburb Lincoln Park, was looking forward to her first weekend at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina bore down on New Orleans.

“I had moved all of my stuff in on Saturday and by four we were told that we had to evacuate the school by six,” Prior said.

She and her fellow students were given three evacuation options – leave immediately with their parents, remain in the city with a local family member or friend or board a University-provided bus to Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss.

Almost nobody opted to stay, Prior said.

“My parents and I went back to our hotel room and at 5 p.m. we decided to start driving,” she said.

With all her belongings still in her fifth floor dorm room, Prior and her parents made their way into Mississippi. They called their airline and arranged for flights out of Memphis, Tenn. to Chicago for the following day.

Back home, Prior kept herself updated on the status of the school through an emergency Web site the University established. The school remained largely dry as it is located uptown, she said. Once it was clear Tulane and the city of New Orleans would not reopen for some time, however, she and her family started to explore other options.

“My mom and I started calling some schools and I had a friend who went to Saint Mary’s last year and goes to Holy Cross this year, and I knew a lot of people who lived in South Bend,” Prior said.

She moved into the first floor of Holy Cross Hall and started classes Sept. 5.

“I’m settling in and the girls here are really nice,” Prior said. “The teachers have been really accommodating about starting two weeks late.”

Prior could not say whether she would remain at Saint Mary’s permanently.

“I’m don’t really know but I am hoping to see at least what Tulane is like,” Prior said. “They are opening second semester.”

Coney is a New Orleans native and a nursing major at Holy Cross College of New Orleans, a small commuting school. Only a sudden opening in Saint Mary’s popular nursing program allowed her to enroll.

Coney was not available to comment, but Meyer said she is living off campus while attending Saint Mary’s.

“A little later in the semester, she will decide whether to officially transfer and finish her degree here,” College spokeswoman Melanie McDonald said.

The Notre Dame Law School has admitted two Tulane University law students who graduated from Notre Dame, and the Graduate School enrolled two students from other “Katrina-damaged institutions” as visiting students, according to a press release from the University.

However, Notre Dame has not accommodated undergraduates from damaged colleges because of “space limitations, heavy class enrollment and the rapid scholastic pace of the fall semester,” the release said.