On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria formed in the Atlantic and hit Puerto Rico as Category 4 hurricane causing extensive damage to the island’s electrical infrastructure and water systems. To date, some of the island still does not have electricity restored.
Immediately after the storm, Florida International University quickly sprang into action and offered its help to the University of Puerto Rico signing an MOU to provide them support with emergency response and processes, technological support so they could get their website back online, and provided workspace their Director of Human Resources.
Six months after the storm, severe damage to homes, loss of jobs, and damaged university infrastructure –coupled with slow recovery times— have placed extreme financial stress on Puerto Rican students putting their ability to continue their university education at risk.
This has affected students on and off the island. Due to our close proximity, Florida and Miami-Dade County have seen an influx of Puerto Rican evacuees who were fleeing the disaster and looking for opportunities to continue their schooling.
FIU’s goal has been to provide evacuee students with continuity and additional educational opportunities. Prior to the arrival of Hurricane Maria, FIU had more than 500 Puerto Rican students enrolled.
After the storm, students seeking educational opportunity while they await the reopening of their Puerto Rican institutions have found an extended home at FIU. Since the storm, an additional 204 evacuee students have enrolled at FIU.
To aid these students during their time of trauma and stress, FIU has reimbursed the fall out-of-state fees for 104 of the previously enrolled students and provided them with a tuition waiver for the Spring 2018 semester. FIU has also waived the out-of-state tuition fees for the 204 evacuee students.
With support from the FlU Board of Directors, and a grant from the Knight Foundation, FIU has provided access to emergency aid in the form of housing stipends, tuition assistance, food stipends, books and counseling services to the more than 700 Puerto Rican students.
In response to the island’s crisis, FIU established a special evacuee and visiting student status. This allows students to enroll in courses at FIU as non-degree seeking, allowing them to continue their work toward their degree, while their universities back home recover.
FIU also created two mini-terms in October 2017 and December 2017 that allowed the students from Puerto Rico to recuperate the fall semester they had lost. To help with the transition, FIU hosted an open house for Puerto Rican students and their families, providing them space to learn about our university and our policies.
These students continue to face harsh realities at home, with the loss of jobs and business, as the island struggles to recover. FIU has seen a significant increase in interest from Puerto Rican students fall 2018 to fall 2019 with a 167% in applications and the number of incoming freshman increasing from 47 to more than 158.
With this outlook, we expect that the more than 700 students currently at FIU and incoming students will continue to need additional support to be able to continue with their schooling and find job opportunities. In addition, we expect to continue to see an increase in our Puerto Rican student population.
Moving forward, FIU will continue to provide students from Puerto Rico, already enrolled and those looking to come to FIU, with the in-state tuition waiver through spring 2019.