Many of the fall enrollment figures are in for Louisiana institutions that were emptied almost a year ago by Hurricane Katrina. Understandably, the numbers -- especially students from out of state -- are down, in some cases sharply. But colleges are now using $8.5 million in federal funds to offer special $1,000 need-based scholarships for displaced students to return to Louisiana.
The “return to learn” scholarships  will be spread across the 30 public and 11 private institutions in the state according to the number of students they had in fall 2004 who were from areas affected by Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
According to Theresa Hay, assistant commissioner for the Louisiana Board of Regents, the scholarships will be available to students who have not yet enrolled who were: at Louisiana institutions and were displaced; recent high school graduates who were displaced; citizens from affected areas who want to attend a Louisiana institution.
According to Kevin Hardy, a spokesman, the board has received about 1,000 inquiries about the scholarships through its Web site, and that’s besides the inquiries directly to institutions.
Emily London-Jones, director of student aid at the University of New Orleans – which was allocated $1.18 million, the second largest grant  – said that UNO has already received 800 inquiries from students about the scholarships.
London-Jones said that UNO is hoping to get close to 13,000 students for the fall, as compared to 13,225 in the fall of 2004. That projection, however, relies on some late enrollments.
London-Jones added that the lack of off-campus housing has been a bit of deterrent for students and for families who want to visit. “We do have facilities, but we don’t have a lot of city housing,” London-Jones said.
Delgado Community College -- which got the most money, at $1.4 million -- had 16,669 students in fall 2004. Delgado exceeded all expectations by getting 10,000 students in the spring. Walter G. Bumphus, president of the Louisiana Technical and Community College System, said that figures for most two-year institutions are not yet available, but that Delgado is expected to get about 13,000 students for the fall. Bumphus called the scholarships a “tremendous initiative.”
“We depend on our high school graduates and a lot of them are out of the state,” he said. “Any incentive for them to come back helps.”
Administrators at some institutions said that media portrayals of New Orleans aren’t helping higher education’s cause. “Whenever you look at someone who reports from this city,” said Debbie Stieffel, dean of admissions and enrollment management at Loyola University New Orleans, “they just do it from the 9th Ward. It’s never from my campus. Not that the city isn’t devastated, but my campus isn’t. It looks like it did before Katrina.”
Loyola had 3,688 students in fall 2004, and Stieffel said she expects around 2,500 next fall. “Obviously we were hoping for better than that,” Stieffel said. She added that Loyola decided not to change admissions standards to get more students. “That might help in the very short term, but when you look at retention and student success, it’s not a good idea to change.”
Stieffel also said that the percentage of in-state students in the incoming class is up about 15 percentage points, to about 45 percent of the total. “We were killed in our out of state market this year,” she said. “Recruitment as we know it in the first few months after Katrina was impossible.”
Some of that increase, though, might be Louisiana students who want to come back home, or see a chance to rebuild New Orleans. Stieffel said that some students from out of state might have caught the rebuilding fever as well. Transfer applications hit an all-time high of around 500, and most of them are from outside Louisiana. Stieffel said that college students from other states visited through their colleges on their spring breaks. “I think they come here and see what’s happened and that they can do something that can make a difference,” Stieffel said, adding that it is parents, more than students, who are wary about venturing to New Orleans. “Whenver we got a kid on the phone,” Stieffel said, “they would be very interested. If we called and got a parent, forget about it.”
Mike Strecker, a spokesman for Tulane University – which got the third largest allocation, of $705,220 – agreed that, especially for people from outside the New Orleans region, “there’s still some real hesitation about the city. Once we get students to campus … looking outside, you’d never know anything happened.” Tulane is expecting to have about 5,100 students, down from 7,952 in fall 2004.
If institutions do not use all of the scholarships, the money will be redistributed.
Administrators said that, though far fewer students will report to Louisiana campuses this fall than in past falls, many of them, like university employees, will be infused with a sense of mission. “I probably could have had opportunities to leave [Loyola],” Stieffel said, “but just like the students, I see it as a place that is like no other. It’s quite rewarding.”