By Taylor Klusman
The Razorback Reporter
The UofA was one of at least 12 universities and two campus systems across the US to offer in-state tuition to academically qualified students affected by Hurricane Maria. UA officials decided to extend this offer for the Spring 2018, Summer 2018 and Fall 2018 semesters.
When the university made a similar motion to students in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, they had 66 students take them up on their offer, 14 of whom ended up graduating from the UofA.
“Transferring may prove difficult for some students who are currently enrolled in a university program in Puerto Rico because they don’t know now when their semester is going to end,” UofA Media Relations Manager Steve Voorhies said. “One student has said that she may not be able to start school here because her current semester will likely still be going into our spring semester.”
UofA officials are unsure of how many storm-struck students will take advantage of their offer at this time.
“About 10 have contacted us to ask for more information so far,” Voorhies said. “Other schools are making similar offers, so it is very hard to predict.”
Comparatively, 667 hurricane-affected students from the Caribbean, mainly Puerto Rico, have already signed up at Florida International University, also offering in-state tuition, for the spring semester.
“We don’t expect any to be incoming freshmen – this is aimed more at undergrads and grad students who are already enrolled in Puerto Rican institutions that have been damaged,” Voorhies said.
Alvin Lopez, award winning song-writer and Latino performer, was originally from Puerto Rico himself and believes the university to be a trend-setter in their actions of helping others.
“It’s a matter of getting the word out,” Lopez said. “The reality is there has been an influx of Puerto Ricans into the area already, even getting the word out to the Puerto Ricans in the area right now so that they hear what the university is doing, it could be an incentive for them to send their kids here to go to college.”
The admittance of these students at the UofA following the natural disaster almost a decade ago did not have a financial impact on the university, Voorhies said.
The UofA’s offer of in-state tuition, which adds up to $9,062 a year, could assist students affected by Hurricane Maria in their continuation of college, Chancellor Joseph Steinmetz said.
“For me, it would be a perfect opportunity to connect with the people that are here,” Lopez said. “It’s awesome that you’re doing this for Puerto Ricans but we’re across the ocean and there are people in our backyard that also need help that we could be doing something for.”
There are around 2,500 Puerto Ricans in Northwest Arkansas that have been here before the disaster of Hurricane Maria, Lopez said.
“There are children who have lived here for their whole lives and need the same kind of support, kids who are so amazing with big brains that could be great students at the university of Arkansas,” Lopez said.