The choice for 18-year-old Bria Miller was an easy one. Once she heard that classes were resuming at Xavier University in New Orleans, she re-enrolled without hesitation.
“I made a home there so quickly, and I want to go back,” said Miller, a freshman, who transferred to the University of Illinois in Chicago when Xavier closed. “I was always thinking ‘When would the school be ready so I could go back?”’
Miller’s decision to move back to New Orleans is good news to Xavier President Norman Francis, who came to Chicago last week to encourage students to return to the nation’s only historically Black and Roman Catholic college. It reopens on Jan. 17.
“We’re rebuilding the university as an island in the city,” Francis said during a reception at Columbia College in Chicago. “People didn’t think we could do it, but we did.”
After Hurricane Katrina, colleges around the country took in an estimated 18,000 displaced New Orleans students. About 55 of Xavier’s 4,000 students came to Chicago. Most of them enrolled in local colleges and universities, Xavier officials said.
Now, New Orleans schools desperately need those students to return next semester and pay tuition.
Founded in 1825, Xavier has built a reputation as a liberal arts college for Black students seeking medical careers.
After Katrina struck on Aug. 29, the university’s New Orleans campus was flooded. School administrators have estimated losses at more than $90 million in storm damage and lost revenue, a devastating sum for a university whose endowment is only about $50 million.
The losses forced the university to cut 396 faculty and staff positions.
Dillard University, another historical Black college, also had to lay off about half of its faculty. Tulane University, meanwhile, plans to phase out about 50 faculty positions in its undergraduate and professional degree programs and another 180 at its medical school. Loyola University has laid off 28 faculty members.
But all are scheduled to open their doors again in January.
“If we stayed out another semester, we’d procrastinate and in July ’06, we’d say we can’t open. So, we set a date, and we’re opening in January,” Francis said.
Early projections estimated about 2,000 students would return to Xavier. But more than four weeks before classes are scheduled to start, about 3,100 students have pre-registered. The numbers don’t surprise Francis.
“If we were like any other school, there would be no reason to come back,” Francis said. “But we have a product and a brand that’s successful.”
— Associated Press
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