As region recovers, so does Southeastern

Thursday, September 29, 2016
by: Rene Abadie

     HAMMOND – As the university with the largest percentage of students from areas impacted by recent flooding, the uncertainty of so many variables for so many Southeastern Louisiana University students, faculty and staff in mid-August was incalculable. Compounding the unknown factors was the fact that the flooding ensued less than a week before the scheduled start of classes for the fall semester.    
     “As a regional university, many of Southeastern’s students hail from the parishes that were hardest hit by the flooding,” said President John L. Crain. “Almost half of our students call four of the most impacted parishes home – Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Livingston and Tangipahoa.”
     Thankfully, the campus and immediate surrounding communities remained largely unscathed but the flooding wreaked havoc on the usual timeline for the fall semester, and the start of classes was eventually pushed back from Aug. 17 to Aug. 22, said Crain.
     Faculty and staff volunteered to launch and man a phone bank in the Admissions Communications Center while a myriad of additional communication efforts were employed to reach out to students whose statuses remained unknown or who had indicated via an online semester intent form that they needed special assistance.
     “First we wanted to let our students know we were thankful to have reached them and that they were safe. And then we wanted to assure them that Southeastern would help them however possible,” said Crain.  
     In all, more than 5,000 calls were made.
     Deadlines for financial aid, course selection and payment of fees were extended. Additional payment options were made available. Special consideration was given to those unable to move into residence halls prior to the start of classes or attend the first days of class. Textbook Rental replaced nearly 200 textbooks that were lost or damaged in the flood free of charge for students. Parking passes and Southeastern IDs were also re-issued at no cost. In addition, over 100 alumni received re-prints of diplomas.
    “Faculty and staff expended extraordinary effort,” Crain said. “Some were making calls and helping make accommodations for students even while they were waiting for water to recede in their own houses. It is times like this that the Southeastern Family truly pulls together, and I am humbled to work alongside them.”
     Beyond the more technical but necessary items such as adjustments to the academic calendar and the corresponding changes needed to meet financial aid disbursement regulations, members of the university also stepped up to volunteer their personal time and energy to assist with clean-up efforts.
     Students and student-athletes proved  to be “Lion Strong,” volunteering well over 1,000 hours of service to help with recovery efforts throughout our region. They helped rip out sheetrock, move water-logged furnishings, and whatever else needed to be done in well over 100 homes.
     Likewise, many faculty and staff helped friends and neighbors with recovery efforts and have donated money and supplies for disaster relief assistance. The Southeastern Food Pantry, which usually serves only the student population, opened its doors to families of students and those in the community in need of provisions.
     The Lion Ride Share program was conceived and implemented online in order to help commuting students, faculty and staff members who lost vehicles in the flooding.
     Additionally, the Southeastern Foundation established a Disaster Relief Fund to assist in meeting the short term needs of as many students, faculty, and staff as possible. Staff secured a grant from the Northshore Community Foundation to supplement the funds donated by individuals.
     One student who received grant funding wrote the following as a thank you:
     “In August of 2016, the month I started my first semester of college, my home was flooded.  I lost personal belongings, including clothes, shoes, pictures of me and loved ones who are no longer with us, etc. To be part of a wonderful university that was able to collect money for students like me warms my heart. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity. This truly means so much to me.”

     Nearly 200 grants have been provided thus far to assist those needing help as they continue to work toward recovery.
     As the region embarks on the more long-term phases of recovery, students are urged to take advantage of the services available to them free of charge through the University Counseling Center. Counselors are available for sessions with those who may be feeling overwhelmed by flood-related issues, especially now that the initial shock of the natural disaster has passed. Students may access the center in the Student Union Annex or call (985) 549-3894 to make appointments.
     “I am tremendously proud of our campus community members who went above and beyond in the aftermath of the flooding,” said Southeastern Louisiana University President John L. Crain. “There is no doubt their efforts made a difference in the lives of those impacted and  led to our strong fall enrollment despite the enormous uncertainties and obstacles faced at the outset.”
     Southeastern Louisiana University’s fall enrollment of new freshmen increased, rising 14.4 percent. Prior to the flooding, Southeastern was anticipating its largest freshman class in recent history, Crain said. Of note is an accompanying increase in ACT composite scores among that freshman class (now 22.3 compared to 21.9 last year) , which translates into more students who are better prepared to succeed in a university setting. Fall total enrollment headcount is 14,499, roughly the same as last year’s.
    Enrollment officers and counselors at Southeastern report the vast majority of students who were unable to enroll this fall indicate they plan to sit out one or two semesters with the intent of eventually re-enrolling, according to Lori Fairburn, Director of Enrollment Services
    “We are working with them every way possible to help them continue their higher education and will welcome them to campus as soon as they are able to return,” Fairburn said.
     Also showing enrollment gains this fall is Connect to Success, the admissions bridge program that now boasts approximately 649 students, the highest in the program’s five-year history. The partnership  between Southeastern and Northshore Technical Community College provides post-secondary educational opportunities for students in the region who are seeking admission to the university but don't yet meet admission criteria. NTCC students participating in the program take their courses on the Southeastern campus, and have access to its library, Student Union, and other amenities and services.  
     Continuing to serve its mission as a regional university, the top feeder parishes to the university remained consistent, with 3,263 students from St. Tammany Parish and 1,957 from Tangipahoa Parish. Other parishes sending high numbers of students to Southeastern include East Baton Rouge, 1,830; Livingston, 1,562; Jefferson, 1,288, and Ascension, 1,261.

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