When Walker Hines goes home for Thanksgiving, the guest student and fifth-generation New Orleanian must decide what to do if he cannot return to the University next semester.
After being rescued by boat from his flooded New Orleans neighborhood in September, the third-year political science major was accepted to the University as a nondegree student.
Now, he and 73 other displaced students from the four universities hardest-hit by Hurricane Katrina must choose whether to try to remain Wolverines or fly south to their original universities for the winter semester.
Hines has applied for re-admission to the University of Michigan and has withdrawn from Tulane University. He is waiting for the admissions office to decide his academic fate.
But among the displaced students, Hines is in the minority.
Sally Lindsley, associate director of undergraduate admissions, said that though New Orleans universities have encouraged displaced students to come back for the winter semester, her office has received only five or six inquiries from displaced students wishing to stay at the University of Michigan.
“I don’t know anybody that’s not going back,” said Andrew Pridjian, a displaced student who along with 46 others was admitted under nondegree status from Tulane, which cancelled its fall semester after sustaining more than $100 million in property damage from the storm.
Tulane spokesman Mike Strecker confirmed Pridjian’s guess, saying the Louisiana university expects most of its 13,000 students to return in the winter.
“The registration for (next) semester is still going on, so we don’t have exact figures yet, but the early numbers are encouraging,” he said.
The University of New Orleans, which will re-open its central campus Jan. 29, suffered $103 million in property damage but retained more than 7,000 students during the fall term through online classes and satellite campuses.
Spokeswoman Sharon Gruber said the school is expecting 12,000 students next semester, 5,000 short of normal enrollment. The low estimate reflects the high number of UNO students who cannot return because they lost their homes, she said.
Twenty-one of the displaced students at the University of Michigan hail from UNO.
Though maintaining daily operations for these two New Orleans schools has been a logistical nightmare, both have promised to allow displaced students to transfer credits from any accredited university that took them in for fall semester.
But there is a catch.
To earn Tulane credit, each of the 46 displaced students must pay the New Orleans university $16,673 – the cost of a semester’s tuition – even though the University of Michigan’s out-of-state tuition and fees cost considerably less: $13,706 for underclassmen and $14,675 for juniors and seniors.
At first, this policy caused a minor uproar among Tulane students and parents. The Chronicle of Higher Education reported Sept. 30 that some thought the arrangement was unfair because many students could not access courses at cheaper institutions that they needed to graduate on time from Tulane. The Chronicle also noted that some argued the “lower quality” education students received at other universities does not match the value of Tulane’s tuition.
But Strecker said the complaints died down once “students realized they would receive Tulane credit no matter where they attended.”
For students like Hines, who have withdrawn from their home universities and are trying to stay at the University, waiting to hear from admissions has been nerve wrecking.
“Having applied over two months ago, it is somewhat frustrating not knowing and still waiting,” Hines said in a phone interview on his way home to Louisiana for Thanksgiving.
Anxious to see his hometown again and tired of checking his mailbox for an admissions letter, Hines left Michigan yesterday to head back to the Big Easy.
“It’s going to be interesting to see what it looks like,” he said. “New Orleans is normally a populous city, but I hear it’s pretty barren right now, pretty naked.”
Hines, who described his semester at the University as “a tremendous experience,” said if he is not admitted for the winter semester, he will either accept an internship in Washington or return home to help with relief efforts.