The day a hurricane came to campus

Kristin Tyndall, editorKristin Tyndall, editor

Editor's note: We are re-publishing this story as colleges and universities in the Southeastern United States prepare for another major storm, Hurricane Irma. Our thoughts are with all of those affected by both storms.

As higher ed officials in Texas and Louisiana take stock of Hurricane Harvey's impact, higher ed leaders who were in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina made landfall on August 29, 2005 are offering support, lessons learned, and encouragement to their peers in Harvey's path.

EAB's own Dick Whiteside was in New Orleans at the time, serving as VP of enrollment management at Tulane University. The EAB Daily Briefing reached out to him for his thoughts on the storm.

Comparisons to Hurricane Katrina are probably inevitable. But what are some of the ways the situations are different?

Hurricane Harvey's devastation of Houston and all of Texas has moved millions of Americans, myself included. Although Katrina was twelve years ago, it seems like yesterday. The Tulane situation was significantly different than what I believe those in Harvey's path face. Immediately following Katrina, we cancelled the entire fall 2005 term. The damage to our campus and the entire City of New Orleans made it impossible to open at any point in the fall.

When you closed campus for the fall term in 2005, what arrangements did you make for students to continue their studies?

First, encouraged all undergraduates to enroll as visiting students in other regionally accredited colleges and universities. We guaranteed students that any courses in which they received a passing grade would be counted toward their Tulane degree requirements when they re-enrolled at Tulane in the spring 2006.

Second, we guaranteed that no student would pay more out of pocket for their fall 2005 tuition, fees, room and board than they would have paid if they had been enrolled at Tulane during that term.

We contacted over 600 colleges individually to negotiate for our students who enrolled at those schools. The vast majority of these schools did not charge Tulane visiting students any tuition for the fall 2006 term. If they did charge, Tulane paid the host institution the required tuition, fees, room and board.

What about students who weren't able to attend other institutions for the term?

We created a tuition-free mini term between the end of the spring 2006 and summer session 2006. Tulane students could take up to nine hours, tuition-free, to get "back on track."

With Hurricane Harvey, some students have been affected much more than others. What can colleges do now to help those individual students?

Of course, it will depend on each individual's situation, but here are some options you can consider.

First, taping lectures so that impacted students can "catch up" on missed classes. You can also try providing incentives for individual faculty to work with individual studies on an as-needed basis. If students cannot make up the work immediately, let them to enroll in relevant online courses that make be less time-dependent.

If students must be away for the full term, be proactive in getting them enrolled as visitors at other institutions and provide reasonable assurances that credits completed will be counted in transfer.

Also, implement a robust FAQ on your website. Address relevant questions immediately as they are received. This is great for reducing one-off inquiries.

What about over the long-term? The effects of Hurricane Harvey will be felt in the region for a long time. What should colleges be thinking about in terms of support for the next few academic terms?

For impacted students, consider removing any overload fees for the next few academic terms that may be associated with credit loads greater than what is covered by full-time tuition. Or waive tuition for summer 2018 courses for impacted students, if that's applicable.

You could also think about adding or expanding a "study period" between the close of fall classes and start of final exams to allow those who enrolled late to catch up on required papers, missed content, and other academic tasks.

To wrap up, if you had to summarize what you learned from Katrina in one sentence, what would you say?

Our main lesson from Katrina was to act quickly, decisively, and openly. To those impacted by Harvey, I'll add that I'm sending my prayers and best wishes for the safety of you, your students, and the entire community.

Here's how you can help students and colleges affected by Hurricane Harvey

Next in Today's Briefing

The skills gap is a "myth," according to this economist

Next Briefing

  • Manage Your Events
  • Saved webpages and searches
  • Manage your subscriptions
  • Update personal information
  • Invite a colleague