Higher ed leaders concerned about Hurricane Ida’s toll on students

Nearly a month after Hurricane Ida made landfall in Louisiana as a Category 4 storm, several universities are still getting back on their feet and attempting to re-engage students, POLITICO reports. Nicholls State University, the University of New Orleans, and Southeastern Louisiana University were the hardest-hit of Louisiana’s colleges and had to cancel classes for weeks; some are just now starting to resume instruction and reopen campuses.

Combined, the universities serve around 30,000 students, primarily commuters. Campus leaders are working to contact students and check for housing or food insecurity, but persistent power outages are complicating their outreach. As of September 20, nearly 22,000 Louisiana energy customers remained without power.

‘A significant challenge’

“The human toll of this disaster is still unknown,” Kim Hunter Reed, Louisiana’s commissioner of higher education, told POLITICO. “Students may feel a tug to stay home and help their parents recover rather than come back to campus to finish their degrees. It could be a significant challenge.”

Nicholls—the only university serving the Bayou Region—surveyed its students in the wake of the hurricane. Just half responded: about one-quarter of students who completed the survey reported food insecurity, and two-thirds reported damage to their homes. “Students I’ve talked to are hungry, they’re worried about getting gas, they’re trying to take care of their parents and some have children of their own,” Tyler Legnon, Nicholls’ student body president, said.

With philanthropic gifts, Nicholls has been able to invite students who lost their homes to the storm to move into campus dorms and access meal plans at no cost.

“Empathy is the word of the day,” said University of New Orleans President John Nicklow, pointing to the hurdles ahead for many students—and the need for flexibility as they attempt to resume their college careers. Legislators, meanwhile, are pushing for speedier resumption of internet service and power to minimize the amount of time students remain disconnected.

Keeping students on track to earn their degree will be crucial to their long-term outlook, Reed said, adding that she will soon focus on directing federal funding to students impacted by Ida. “When you have a credential of value, you have stability and resiliency,” she said.

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