WASHINGTON – When Mark Gill made the decision to evacuate his University of New Orleans dorm for the safety of his parent’s Tilghman Island home in Maryland, he packed his car with the same possessions that had inspired him to enroll at the university in the first place: his musical instruments.
“That was the reason we chose New Orleans — because he’d be exposed to all types of music,” said his father, Philip Gill, who hails from New Orleans and encouraged his son to explore his passion for music with an education in the jazz capital.
With guitar and keyboards in the trunk of his car, the 21-year-old music major fled Hurricane Katrina’s wrath and said goodbye to the fabled French Quarter just days before the storm slammed into the Gulf region. Gill was safely holed up in Birmingham, Ala., when the levees burst and flood waters rushed into New Orleans, washing away the school year for thousands of students at nearby universities.
Gill will finish his final three semesters at Salisbury University, which, like many schools across Maryland, has taken in students who face an uncertain educational future.
In fact, Friday the University System of Maryland Board of Regents approved a plan to allow hurricane-displaced students to attend any of the system’s 11 institutions, including Salisbury, for free, if they’ve already paid tuition elsewhere.
More than 200 students from Louisiana schools have taken refuge at universities and colleges across Maryland, including University System schools Bowie State College, University of Baltimore and the University of Maryland College Park, as well as non-system schools Morgan State University and Loyola College in Maryland.
Salisbury University accepted six displaced students and received about eight inquiries from potential transfers, according to Jane Dane? dean of enrollment management.
“It’s only logical to try to help students continue their academic planning,” said Dane. “And if we have the courses that would accommodate their needs, certainly we would want to do that.”
The University of Maryland College Park accepted 133 of those students and received more than 400 inquiries since Katrina moved through the Gulf region.
Tulane University, University of New Orleans, Louisiana State University, Dillard University, Loyola University New Orleans and Xavier University of Louisiana all remain closed indefinitely as a result of the Aug. 29 hurricane and subsequent levee breach, which left much of the city underwater. Affected Louisiana schools are working with schools nationally to ensure students can transfer credits when they return.
To expedite the application process and accommodate stranded students quickly, most schools waived the application and late registration fees for incoming students and, with transcripts from the affected schools unavailable, are using the honor system for class enrollment, according to university officials.
“They just basically took his word for what he had taken,” explained Philip Gill.
Finding student housing was also a challenge, according to Cassandra Robinson, a spokeswoman for the University of Maryland College Park. Already at capacity, UMD was able to offer on-campus housing to freshmen and assist upperclassmen in locating off-campus apartments.
Students enrolling at schools in Maryland are primarily those that were either already accepted, but had decided to attend a Louisiana school instead, students who are Maryland residents or have ties to the area, said Robinson.
“Universities exist to serve their students and that’s especially true when one has been compromised by a natural disaster,” said Chris Hart, a University of Baltimore spokesman. “There’s no reason a student’s education should be interrupted. We have the room, the classrooms and the talented people here to make this happen. If they’re willing to reach out, make the trip, we’re willing to open our doors.”
But while many students are getting settled in Maryland, they remain nervous about what’s left of the schools they left behind.
“When we evacuated we thought we were going to be right back,” said Nicole Rosenberg, a Tulane student who is now a freshmen at the University of Maryland at College Park. “They told us all our stuff is OK, but until we get down there we won’t know.”
Packing for just three days, Rosenberg is hopeful her belongings, which include a picture collage given to her by high school friends and a childhood teddy bear, will be safe when she is allowed back onto the campus.
“There was a teddy bear I used to sleep with when I was little. It’s something I would just like to have,” she said. “I’m hoping when air travel opens I should be able to salvage stuff, but some of my stuff might be moldy.”
Policies across Maryland vary, but most students were allowed to enroll with a full course load and will be given the opportunity to decide if they want to transfer permanently to Maryland or return to Louisiana when given the all clear.
For Mark Gill, a return to New Orleans won’t include a graduation. “He’d fallen in love with New Orleans,” said Philip Gill. “He really, really enjoyed it, so he was very sad to leave. But obviously he had no choice.”