By Kevin Wilson: Freedom Newspapers
Around the country, people are doing their part to help victims of Hurricane Katrina get their lives back to normal. Across New Mexico and in Portales, colleges are trying to do their part to make sure education continues as well.
Eastern New Mexico University is accepting college students displaced from their own colleges by Hurricane Katrina, and will allow them to pay in-state tuition and fees.
“To be honest, we’re not anticipating very many unless they have a tie to this area,” ENMU President Steven Gamble said. “We’ll sure take them if they do and we have posted ourselves (ENMU) on a Web site (available for residents in the affected areas).”
Gamble said the university will also provide students with a free meal plan if they reside in a campus residence hall.
According to data released by the State Higher Education Executives Organization (SHEEO), about 75,000 students in Louisiana and 15,000 students in Mississippi are unable to continue their high education studies due to the disruption of Hurricane Katrina.
Gamble said he already knew of one student who expressed an interest in ENMU through a friend currently attending the university. However, Gamble added he’d be surprised if the university gains more than five students.
“We’re not doing this for any head count or anything else,” Gamble said. “We’re just trying to let people know that other people care about them and their predicament.”
Other four-year institutions in New Mexico are making similar accomodations for displaced students as requested by Gov. Bill Richardson and new Higher Education Secretary Beverlee McClure.
“I commend the colleges and universities (who) are already taking the initiative and offering assistance to victims,” McClure said in a release. “I encourage others to follow suit. I am reaching out to assist any institution to make it as easy as possible for victims to take advantage of our higher education system.”
At the College of Santa Fe, President Mark Lombardi said Friday the school is prepared to take as many as 40 “visiting” students whose tuition would be paid.
“This is unprecedented,” he said of the effort across the country.
New Mexico Highlands is offering use of its facilities to serve as a refuge until damaged universities can be fixed.
The American Council on Education estimates that close to three dozen universities in the region have been seriously damaged.
Terry Babbitt, director of admissions and recruitment at UNM, said it is basically “throwing all the rules out the window.”
About 14 displaced students have enrolled at UNM, and the university has gotten inquiries from about 15 more students who are looking for a place to go to school.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.