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Seniors displaced by Katrina: face difficult decisions.

For some college seniors who were displaced by Hurricane Katrina, returning to the Big Easy has not been easy. The fall semester was disrupted by the storm and floods. Among the students' lingering frustrations are very real worries that plans must be altered or put on hold.

To help students earn required credits, many New Orleans colleges, including Dillard and Xavier universities, are offering two accelerated semesters that end with summer graduations. For example, Dillard opened the first of two 13-week sessions on Jan. 9 and scheduled graduation for July 1. Xavier classes resumed Jan. 17 and end July 28; commencement is scheduled for Aug. 12.

These schedules have unintended consequences for some seniors who are applying for internships, jobs and graduate school.

Tanisha Ross, an urban studies and public policy major at Dillard, had hoped to attend the Summer Research Opportunities Program at the University of Illinois, Chicago, which begins in May. But her senior-year schedule shifted when Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. Now, because Ross might not complete undergraduate work until July, she fears she will not be able to enter the program.

She's not alone. Patrice Coleman of Dillard said she will now work after graduation instead of pursuing another degree.

Attey Harper of Xavier is considering pushing her graduation to December so she can complete a summer internship.

"I want to take advantage of an internship because employers really look at your experience before they hire you," said Harper, a psychology major from Baltimore, "and I can't do that if I am in New Orleans until August."

Coleman, a mass communication/print journalism major, has decided to complete only the first of the 13-week sessions; she plans to apply for a summer internship. She needs only about 15 credits (or five courses) to complete her graduation requirements, she said. Then Coleman plans to return to New Orleans for the July commencement.

When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, many students evacuated, believing they would return in a few days.

However, when the levees broke, destroying sections of some campuses, thousands of students faced a choice: to sit out a semester or hastily enroll in another university as a visiting student. The seniors are seeing the consequences of their choices.

According to the National Student Clearinghouse, an estimated 18,000 students from such universities as Tulane, Southern of New Orleans, Loyola, University of New Orleans, Xavier and Dillard were taken in by institutions across the country. Some earned college credits by taking online courses. Others had to drop out or look for work to help their families.

Many seniors said they were worried that the accelerated semester would be difficult, especially if they had core courses to complete. Other seniors contacted for this article said it might not be too hard to finish needed classes because they took their most difficult courses during their sophomore and junior years. Still others stayed on schedule by taking advantage of the generous terms many colleges offered Katrina's victims in the fall: free or reduced tuition, no-waiting and no-transcripts admissions, and temporary status as a visiting student.

Harper briefly considered leaving Xavier when she realized that returning in January to accelerated semesters would eventually add up to spending a whole year straight in school without a break. She had attended Spelman College in the fall after evacuating from Xavier. Her mother had urged her not to go back to New Orleans.

"Of course, I was upset when she told me that," said the senior, who needs about 30 more credit hours to graduate. "I told her, 'You are not realizing that I have to start over' [if I leave]. That will mean more loans and more expenses. I am a senior, and if I leave Xavier, Spelman will only accept 100 of my credits, leaving me to take 58 of their credits."

"I can't do that," Harper said. "I need to graduate."

Several seniors also have fretted about faculty layoffs and cutbacks at the New Orleans schools. On a promising note, several of the colleges that reported cutting back staff and faculty after the storm have rehired some to accommodate students who registered in January.

Still, several seniors interviewed for this article said they were concerned about getting the classes they needed, because professors were laid off or were displaced by the storm. Warren Bell, spokesman for Xavier University, offered assurances that this concern has been considered.

"Every effort is made to make sure that all needed courses are offered," Bell said. "In addition, students have been advised/counseled for several weeks already on courses, and they know that any needed course that is not offered at Xavier's campus may be taken at one of our cooperating local schools, such as Tulane and Loyola."

He referred reporters to campus recovery reports on the Xavier Web site, including one telling the stories of students who received university help during the fall semester to obtain internships required for graduation. To help the students finish on time, professors used the Internet to track down far-flung evacuees and help them find work experience at institutions outside of New Orleans.

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Che' Von Slaughter, 21, former photo editor of Dillard's Courtbouillon student newspaper, said her mass communications professors helped her after the hurricane shut down the university. They advised her about courses to take during the interim semester and wrote letters of recommendation.

After evacuating and moving home to California, she spent the fall semester at the University of Southern California. Now, she is applying to graduate school there and other colleges, she said, "but if everything doesn't work out, I don't mind working for a year and then going to graduate school. But either way, I will have a plan."

Her plan includes skipping the first of the two accelerated semesters at Dillard, she said. She'll spend her time away in an internship with Fox Television, then she'll return in April. She earned enough credits while visiting at USC that she does not have to endure both sessions at Dillard this spring, she said.

"I took a full load last semester and I only need three classes to graduate," said Slaughter. "It will be a waste of money and valuable time to return in January."

Dillard University officials are aware of the seniors' issues and are trying to make sure they adjust well and graduate on time, said Maureen Larkins, director of university relations.

"The way the semester is set up, with the two 13-week sessions, allows the seniors to get in a whole academic year," Larkins said. "Also, if seniors need special classes, the provost is working hard with them individually, but it is no reason why they cannot graduate on time."

Also, the university is working on a case-by-case basis with each student who may have to adjust summer plans to the college's schedule, Larkins said.

"We have tried to make sure they get appropriate recommendations and hands-on help so they can get through this process," she said.

As they welcomed students and families back to Dillard at spring semester orientation Jan. 8, administrators assured seniors that they will have a traditional graduation in 2006.

"This is our last year together, last year of memories, last New Year's together, last spring break, last fall semester," said Christy Malbrew, a public health major who was elected Miss Dillard 2005-2006. "So we want to make the best of everything.

"As a senior, now my degree from Dillard University will mean even more to me," she said. "I am so proud of our university because through this difficult time, we have continued to be ... unified. We are a family ... and the most important thing is that we will be able to walk on Avenue of the Oaks together."

Kara Edgerson is a junior print journalism major at Hampton University.

BY KARA EDGERSON, SPECIAL TO BLACK COLLEGE WIRE AND THE BLACK COLLEGIAN MAGAZINE
COPYRIGHT 2006 IMDiversity, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:college students
Author:Edgerson, Kara
Publication:The Black Collegian
Geographic Code:1U7LA
Date:Feb 1, 2006
Words:1320
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