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Local universities accepting displaced students

Term papers and finals exams are routine, but few students confront a Category Four hurricane as part of their college careers. Thirty colleges and universities in the Gulf Coast region were forced to close after Hurricane Katrina, displacing an estimated 100,000 college students.

San Antonio colleges and universities are accepting students displaced by the storm to help them get back into the swing of their studies. "Everything is being done on a case-by-case basis," said George Norton, assistant vice president of admissions at UTSA. "We want to admit these students as long as we can be of help." Since many students' transcripts and admissions documents may be missing for some time, they are being admitted through waivers that later will be replaced by official documentation.

(School administrators declined to divulge the students' names and contact information for privacy reasons.)

At Trinity University, 18 displaced students have been admitted to the school; 10 of them are living in campus residence halls.

Their admission to Trinity and St. Mary's universities raises the issue of classroom size because these schools operate on a low student-to-teacher ratio. Nonetheless, Susie Gonzalez, assistant director of public relations at Trinity, said the response by faculty members has been overwhelmingly positive. "Over half of our faculty members have said that they will take on additional students. We try to maintain a 10-1 ratio. It's delicate to add students, but our professors want to help any way they can."

Professors at St. Mary's are also working closely with displaced students. "Our faculty has been meeting with students who have just joined their classes for an hour individually," said Suzanne Petrusch of enrollment management. "We want to catch them up. Some may be able to take eight-week courses or independent studies depending on the professor."

Petrusch said counseling is an important part of this process. Some students need help determining if attending school this semester is feasible. With most classes three weeks in, some students may decide that waiting until next semester makes more sense.

While some have decided to seek a degree at San Antonio schools, many are being admitted as visiting students. They will enroll in classes here, but plan to transfer their coursework to work towards earning a degree from their home institutions. Texas has implemented a reciprocal tuition agreement with neighboring states impacted by the hurricane, allowing eligible students to receive in-state tuition at public schools. Many private schools have followed suit, offering tuition discounts and temporary financial-aid guidelines.

"The term 'transient' doesn't apply here," said Petrusch. "We need to get to know these students and use this as a counseling opportunity to guide them."

By Nicole Chavez

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