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Columbia Spectator Staff

Over the past week, thousands of Gulf Coast residents have struggled to find a place to weather the storm. This semester, many students will find it here.

As officials across the country struggled to find ways to help those reeling from the devastation of hurricane Katrina, Columbia and Barnard officials were quick to respond to the call for help from their colleagues in the South. Late last week, both announced that they would offer visiting student status to displaced students for the semester at no immediate cost to them.

As of Friday, over 100 undergraduates who formerly attended Gulf Coast-area schools had enrolled at Columbia through the School of Continuing Education, in addition to a significant number of graduate students. More will have the chance to enroll today as administrators meet with students still searching for a home for the semester.

Though Columbia tuition will be waived, these students will have to find and fund their own off-campus housing; administrators assume that most taking advantage of this offer will be from the tri-state area.

"We decided at the very beginning that Columbia shouldn't profit from this disaster," said Provost Alan Brinkley.

Though an unexpectedly high yield from last year's pool of applicants left Barnard filled to capacity this semester, administrators there also felt compelled to aid those affected.

"It's incredible circumstances, and it's just a case where we sat down and said, 'We need to change the rules,'" said Judith Fondiller, dean of admissions for Barnard College.

As early as last weekend, many students ousted by the hurricane started searching for an alternate school.

"I'm glad I'm not down there," said Mihir Bhangley, a Tulane University sophomore. Having lost his possessions in Katrina, he's worried about the financial crunch. "It screwed a lot of things up, I don't have any money as it is."

He and his classmate Steven Oved will meet with administrators today to determine their status as visiting students at Columbia. But they both look forward to returning to Tulane when it safe to do so.

"I'm just hoping that Tulane is able to get itself up and running, and that we can continue our education there, even though I know it may never be the same," Oved said.

Though these new arrivals expressed anxiety at entering a new city and situation, they plan to make the most of their time at Columbia. "I am excited," said Tulane senior Stephanie Philis, who has already been accepted as a visiting student. "I'm just looking forward to everything, aside from staying apart from my friends for an entire semester," he said. "But I'll make new ones."

Brinkley emphasized the need for the Columbia community to come together in the wake of the crisis, and he expressed pride in the work the school has done so far to reach out to students.

"Catastrophes of this kind often bring out the best in people, and I think Katrina's doing that everywhere, including at Columbia," he said.