Other US schools accommodating the swamped-out
Bobbie Beyer, who had just begun her freshman year at Tulane University, is back home in Lexington, looking into local alternatives. "I'm just in limbo," she said yesterday. (Globe Staff Photo / Matthew J. Lee)
Colleges and universities across the country, including many in Greater Boston, are opening doors to students whose schools have been left uninhabitable by Hurricane Katrina. Some are offering the opportunity to enroll in classes, while others are providing housing and laptops.
Up to 100,000 students attend colleges in New Orleans, and a total of about 175,000 are enrolled in southern Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, the American Council on Education estimated. Many now find themselves without homes or schools and have returned to their hometowns and uncertain futures.
Lexington High School graduate Bobbie Beyer, for one, is back home without a plan. Beyer's passion for Cajun culture and the French language led her to Tulane University. But a long-awaited chance to live in New Orleans lasted only days, cut short by Katrina's wrath. Beyer fled her dormitory Saturday, leaving all her belongings behind, save three changes of clothes, a towel, and a bottle of shampoo.
''I was just thinking, 'Wow, I'm finally here,' and then I had to leave," said Beyer, who is now seeking a Boston-area college to attend in the short-term. ''I'm just in limbo."
It's not clear when, or whether, colleges in Katrina's path will reopen for the semester. Dillard University in New Orleans was under 5 feet of water, said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education. Tulane's president, Scott Cowen, who was airlifted from campus to Houston yesterday, wrote on an emergency website that he would have an update within 48 hours about a plan for the semester.
''I think it's unlikely that most of these schools in New Orleans will open before January -- if then," said Hartle, although the council had been unable to reach most schools in the area because of the lack of cellphone, land line, and Internet service.
Hartle was particularly worried about Norman C. Francis, the longtime president of Xavier University of Louisiana, a historically black Catholic school, who planned to ride out the storm on campus and has not been heard from since.
About 300 to 350 Massachusetts students attend college in Louisiana, and a much smaller number go to schools in Mississippi, said Richard Doherty, president of the Association of Independent Colleges and Universities in Massachusetts, who based his estimate on federal data. The initial focus of emergency response in Massachusetts is on helping local students, but Doherty said there is also interest at some schools in enrolling other Louisiana students.
The University of Massachusetts system will offer ''emergency admissions" at its campuses to Gulf Coast students. UMass-Boston said it will waive standard admissions paperwork for affected students. Babson College in Wellesley is extending entry, as well as housing and laptops to students. Simmons College and New Hampshire's Franklin Pierce College are both offering a free fall semester.
Other schools have opted for a more selective approach. Tufts University will offer visiting status to students enrolled at Tulane University, a New Orleans college with a significant contingent of New England students.
''We're going to do the best we can. We may end up asking student volunteers to turn doubles into triples," said Tufts's president, Lawrence S. Bacow, referring to dormitory rooms.
Boston University officials said they were working out a plan late yesterday to enroll Tulane students free of charge, though a final decision had not been made.
Some major local universities were still undecided about their response. Harvard was considering options yesterday afternoon.
Meanwhile, families from affected areas in the South have been stranded in Boston after dropping students off for the start of school at area colleges. Hiyasmin Brodmyer, who lives just outside New Orleans, arrived in Boston last week planning to stay three days to settle her daughter into life at Babson. Just a day into her stay, she learned her house was washed away in the floods.
Her daughter Jasmine Brodmyer, a freshman planning to study international business, said that the week has been grueling, but that at least she has learned through e-mail messages that her friends are safe.
''The people up here can sympathize with me and my friends back home can empathize, and so I am getting both forms of support," she said.
Brodmyer said she plans to continue with the semester; her mother will travel to Virginia to stay with a relative for three weeks while the cleanup in New Orleans continues.
Many schools have now extended generous offers, but some parents and students who called admissions offices in the past few days were rebuffed.
When called yesterday morning, several schools ''basically said: 'We're full. There's nothing we can do. She can apply to transfer,' " said Rick Beyer, Bobbie Beyer's father. ''It takes people awhile to adjust to really different circumstances."
The offer of admission is a tricky one for some schools. In many cases, transcripts and other records are not available because computer servers at affected schools are down and offices are closed. Some schools are simply going on a student's word.
''There is no way to get verification of who these people are," said Brent Damrow, the associate dean of academic services at Babson, where 12 students have inquired about entry -- 10 from Tulane and two from Loyola University.
''They tell us where they come form and we'll tell them what can do, and we go from there," Damrow said.
Ira Citron, 21, of Newton, a junior at Tulane who fled New Orleans with his family, who were visiting him when water began rising Sunday, said he was stunned to find Babson willing to take him on his word.
''They let us come right in, and it's all been trust, which is the nicest thing ever," said Citron, who will live with his parents this semester. ''I am feeling comfortable and starting to get the Babson spirit."