Nation Opens Doors to Displaced Students

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el-vaquero-staff-writer/" class="creditline">NANCY AGBENU
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Institutions around the country have offered services to Katrina victimes like those offered by Glendale College. A number of colleges around the United States and Canada have offered free or waived fall admission fees and helped displaced students find housing. A number of colleges also prolonged their admission dates to as late as October. Also, repayment of student loans has been postponed and penalty fees for late payments have been waived.

Some colleges or universities that have taken in students will ask for reimbursement from the institution where the student paid tuition for fall classes. At the University of Wisconsin, President Kevin Reilly announced a tuition waiver for the fall semester, but stipulated that students who stay to complete their degree in Wisconsin will be charged for all credits they earn.

The federal government has also offered assistance to college students. “Our hearts go out to the victims of this unspeakable tragedy,” said Margaret Spellings, Secretary of Education. “We will work to ensure that federal student aid rules are applied in a way that enables every student displaced by Hurricane Katrina to continue his or her education.”

So far, the U.S. Department of Education has set up Web sites that provide links to information for displaced students, parents, borrowers, colleges, universities, and financial institutions that participate in the Federal higher education student assistance programs. Web sites include www.ed.gov/katrina, www.nasfaa.org/linklists/katrina.html and www.globaled.us/studenthelp.

Questions from displaced students can be e-mailed to [email protected] or they can call (800) 4-FEDAID (433-3243).

Meanwhile, the House of Representatives unanimously approved two pieces of emergency legislation in late September focusing on federal student aid for students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

The first bill – the Pell Grant Hurricane and Disaster Relief Act (H.R. 3169), introduced by Rep. Ric Keller (R-FL) – gives the Secretary of Education the authority to waive a departmental requirement that compels students who withdraw from college to return a portion of their Pell Grants.

The second bill is the Student Grant Hurricane and Disaster Relief Act (H.R. 3668) sponsored by Rep. Bobby Jindal (R-LA). This legislation would ensure that students who were forced to leave college because of “a major disaster”” would not have to return other types of grants that are authorized under the Higher Education Act, which governs most federal student aid programs, including the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant (SEOG) program, the Leveraging Educational Assistance Partnership (LEAP) program, GEAR UP, and TRIO, all targeted toward low-income and disadvantaged students. “It is our hope that these bills will be a part of a larger package of aid to our students and campuses that have suffered so much devastation over the past weeks,” said Spellings.

According to Reuters, in mid- September, the Senate approved $3.5 billion to help hurricane victims pay for housing costs. More than 1 million people who are thought to have been displaced by the storm and its aftermath. Other potentially costly amendments, including $5.5 billion in aid to displaced students and schools enrolling hurricane refugees, have been delayed, but House Democrats have expressed their desire for more aid.

Along with the National Association of College and University Business Officers (NACUBO), the governmental department also created a Web site, www.campusrelief.org, at which colleges can enter their information about programs their campus is offering for displaced students. Its Student Resource section also includes a state-by-state list of institutions offering enrollment to displaced students.