Despite having occurred nearly two months ago, Hurricane Maria, a category five hurricane, wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico, with relief efforts unable to catch up with the severity of the storm. In the day after the storm, the entire island had lost power, five percent of the island had cell service and only 40 percent of gas stations were equipped with supplies. Forty-five days later, only 41 percent of the island has power, 92 percent has cell service and 84 percent of gas stations are up and running.
The catastrophic nature of the storm has also had implications for education. Three weeks after the storm, nearly half of all primary and secondary schools on the island remained closed. College students, too, have been displaced by the storm, making it impossible for them to gain access to education on the island. However, U.S. colleges have sought to ameliorate this problem by providing education to Puerto Rican students for the Spring 2018 semester.
In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, some students had already started classes by rerouting themselves to Florida, where tuition discounts were being offered to those whose home institutions were unable to reopen. For Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students, the State University of New York system, which includes schools like Binghamton, Purchase and Geneseo, made the decision to reduce their tuition to the rate of New York state residents. Rather than pay nearly $40,000 a year to attend, student rates would be approximately $25,000, leaving more fluidity for family assets to go toward home reparation, water access, etc.
Other large U.S. universities have also offered to provide education to Puerto Rican students starting in the spring. Tulane University, Brown University, Cornell University and New York University each have opened their doors to students from Puerto Rico. New York University will provide 50 students with free tuition, housing, health insurance and a meal plan for the spring semester. Tulane opened its doors to Puerto Rican students tuition-free. Cornell offered up to 58 students from the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) free tuition, room and board. Finally, Brown University shared that they would offer similar amenities plus assistance with travel to students at UPR.
Liberal arts colleges, too, have offered Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Islands students the opportunity to attend for the spring semester. Amherst College—one of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation—has offered to cover tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation, health insurance and students’ spring tuition at their home institutions. Though their program is similar to that offered by other institutions, Amherst’s is unique by paying the students’ home schools for their missed semesters so as not to financially detriment them, as well.
In looking to provide education to Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria, these programs will manage to accommodate a wide number of students who may otherwise not be able to gain access to education for the spring semester. With continued support to the island nation, by the end of the year, education to Puerto Rican students of all ages will be back on track.
– Emily Chazen