Univ. opens arms to Katrina victims

Megan Angelo

Twenty-seven students displaced from their New Orleans colleges by Hurricane Katrina enrolled at the University on Tuesday. Of the new students, who were admitted to the University on “special visitor” status, 26 are from Tulane University and six are from Loyola University New Orleans.

“We’re providing registration right on the spot,” Stephen Merritt, dean of Enrollment Management, said Tuesday in the Connelly Center, where representatives from the academic colleges and several campus offices helped students set up class schedules, housing arrangements and meal plans, among other things.

Prior to Tuesday, all correspondence between the University and the new students was verbal – no actual application process was enacted. Students had only to provide proof that they had been admitted to their original institution, and all tuition fees were waived, Merritt said.

Seventeen of the new students are freshmen. “We actually have a number of students who were choosing between Villanova and another school [when applying to college],” Merritt said.

Most of the students will be housed in the Pennswood dorm at Harcum College, Merritt said, but some upperclassmen may be assigned to University housing if spots become available.

George Walter, associate dean of Enrollment Management, said the admission of the students proceeded quickly. “We got a few calls on Monday [Aug. 29], and then things just began to really snowball,” he said.

The University received 60 calls over the next few days, but a number of applicants later withdrew their requests, allowing the University to enroll a group close to their target number of 30 students without turning anyone away.

“Some declined because they found schools closer to home, and others just didn’t call us back,” Walter said.

The University stopped accepting applicants at 5 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 2, but Walter has compiled a list of schools that still have openings for those who continue to call. “Right now we’re at capacity, but we don’t feel as though our job ends there,” he said. “Anyone else that calls us, we’re giving them direction.”

Walter said that a formal orientation will be held for the new students in a few weeks. In the meantime, he’s counting on their classmates to make them feel at home. “What made this easiest for us to decide to do this is we have a faith and a confidence, not only in our faculty, but, more importantly, in our students,” he said. “We know these students will be welcomed and that everybody will be able to help out.”

The group includes students who hail from locales as far away as Nicaragua and as close as the Main Line. One student who lives in nearby Wayne brought her roommate from Lafayette, La., back with her, and the two will commute to the University from the student’s Wayne home.

The students’ “special visitor” status is good for one semester. If their original colleges are not prepared to reopen by the spring semester, the University will reassess the situation at that point, Walter said.

Should a student wish to remain at Villanova beyond the fall term, he or she will be considered as a transfer applicant.

“We expect they’ll want to go back to their home institution,” Merritt said.

But Caitlin Dunleavy, a junior education major from Tulane, doesn’t anticipate she’ll feel that way. “In the past two years, I’ve had two hurricanes [and two evacuations],” said Dunleavy, who drove from New Orleans to Baton Rouge, La., and Houston, Texas, before finally arriving in Austin, Texas, and catching a flight home to Virginia. “I’m kind of sick of it.” Dunleavy is still waiting for news of the condition of the house in New Orleans she left behind.

She initially chose the University at random and pursued it because of the response she received on the phone. “They were the most friendly, and they had housing ready for me,” Dunleavy said.

“We knew it was a good school, a Catholic school,” said John Dunleavy, Caitlin’s father. “My wife and I have been most favorably impressed by the preparations, by how friendly everyone’s been. And to think it was all done in a week.”