School Over Before It Starts

Displaced college students
CBS/The Early Show
Meredith Fort had just started her sophomore year at Tulane University when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

"I got woken up by my friend, Mike, and we left to go to Texas with two of our other friends," she tells The Early Show co-anchor Julie Chen. "I only had a backpack with five changes of clothes and my computer. We didn't think we were going to be gone for a while, but we ended up canceling the fall semester."

Her hope is to go back to the New Orleans campus when it reopens, but in the meantime she will be taking courses at Texas Christian University.

"I'm from Fort Worth and my father is a professor at TCU," Fort says, "and they made it really, really easy for us to enroll. They were great about starting us out right away. It was just the easiest choice for me."

TCU's chancellor, Victor Boschin, says, "We've just really tried to make it as easy as possible for the students from the New Orleans area if they wanted to transfer in to TCU, temporarily, to do that. So we just talked to our professors and a lot of our staff members, and immediately added seats in classes. Basically, we just tried to make a place for them so they would feel comfortable on campus."

Fort is just one of an estimated 175,000 college students displaced by Hurricane Katrina.

"We have had about 300 contacts," Boschin says. "We've enrolled 50 students and we have about 30 more today that are in the pipelines."

TCU is one of the colleges around the state and the country that have offered to accept students tuition-free until their own colleges can reopen.

"I'm definitely going back whenever they get things up and running," Fort says. "Hopefully, none of the rooms were harmed and none of our belongings were."

Tulane University President Scott Cowen says that, physically, there was not as much damage to the campuses as there was in the rest of the city.

"We have some water, but it's not substantial," he says. "And our buildings lost some windows and some tiles on the roofs but, for the most part, we are in good condition. We can be up and running in a relatively short period of time, as long as we can get power and water and sewer from the city. That's the biggest obstacle right now."

He said he is grateful that the higher education community around the country has been offering assistance to displaced students.

"We've asked them to take in our students for one semester only so we have an opportunity to have those students return to our campuses in the spring," Cowen says. "And, likewise, to help us in any way they can to retain as much of the tuition as we possibly can. because we are all losing a substantial amount of resources, and part of our ability to recover as institutions is that we have some hope of some of that tuition. But the most important part is, is that universities and colleges around the country have opened their doors to our students, and we're very, very pleased and gratified by that."

Boschin encourages students to transfer as soon as possible, noting that it would be very hard for them to catch up if they wait.

Syracuse University in New York was one of the first colleges in the country to welcome students displaced by Katrina. On Monday, Daniel Webster College in Nashua joined the ranks of New Hampshire colleges offering free tuition to displaced students in good standing with their former schools. Daniel Webster also will offer free housing to a limited number of students.

St. Anselm College, Keene State College, Plymouth State University, Dartmouth College, Southern New Hampshire University, and Franklin Pierce College also are accepting some displaced students.