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Rollins opens program for students displaced by Maria

In order to help Puerto Rican college students displaced by the damage caused by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, Rollins College is joining in a statewide initiative to accept Puerto Rican transfer students at the cost of in-state tuition.

On September 26, Governor Rick Scott asked Florida state colleges and universities to allow Puerto Rican college students to be offered in-state tuition. All members of the Florida College System and Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida, including Rollins College, have agreed to the request of Governor Rick Scott.

As such, Rollins will be welcoming Puerto Rican and Caribbean transfer students in the spring semester at a discounted rate of $8,500. This flat fee, equivalent to the standard cost of attendance at a Florida state university, will cover tuition, room, and board. According to Steve Booker, the Assistant Vice President of Enrollment Management and Director of Financial Aid, these students “will not receive a Rollins degree and will not receive Rollins financial aid.”

Booker also conveyed that these students will only take classes “that are transferrable to their home institution…in order to stay on track.” However, if students enrolled in the 2018 spring semester demonstrate satisfactory academic performance, they may continue their education at Rollins for the standard cost of attendance and may qualify for financial aid from Rollins at that time.

Puerto Rican and Caribbean students interest in this program will have to undergo an application process. This process, especially in terms of documentation, has been greatly simplified in comparison to the standard transfer process. This is in line with a recent supplemental order signed by Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Under the directions of Governor Rick Scott, Stewart signed a supplemental order authorizing state colleges to waive existing rule and requirements for documentation to help Puerto Rican students more quickly enroll in college. Rollins College is following in suit, significantly lowering its standard for official documentation. However, according to Jo Marie Hebeler, Communications Manager at the Office of Marketing & Communications, Rollins “will apply the same rigorous admission standards for all applicants.”

Due to the extreme damage to communication services in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, making college students in those areas aware of this opportunity has been difficult. Hebeler explained that they “are reaching out to affiliated media and organizations such as the Hispanic and Puerto Rican Chambers of Commerce as well as regional media [in Florida]” in order to spread awareness of the help Rollins is extending. Hebeler stated that they “also notified our alumni living in the Caribbean” and that they “continue to attempt to contact colleges and other organizations in Puerto Rico.”

“At this time,” stated Hebeler, “we do have space on campus and have not placed a limit on the number [of] transfer students we will accept.” However, Hebeler noted that Rollins currently has “no estimate of how many students will transfer under this special program.”

President Grant Cornwell called for unity as we welcome these students onto our campus, emphasizing,

“Rollins is a college whose mission is to educate students for global citizenship and responsible leadership.”

While Rollins College was minimally impacted by the hurricanes this season, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean were completely devastated, leaving college students and their families to piece their lives back together. President Cornwell conveyed, “this seems like an opportunity where we can offer our comparative good fortune to those who were not so fortunate. The university students in Puerto Rico are seeking the same goals as Rollins students. If we can help them persist in their endeavors, we are called upon to do so.”

While it is essential for Rollins to utilize its place of privilege to help those in need in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean, the currently enrolled students that were also financially impacted by the events of Hurricane Irma and Maria also require assistance. Steve Booker, Director of Financial Aid, stated that they have been evaluating the change in circumstances of those who have appealed for additional aid. “If a family’s income is reduced in any way from the income they reported on the FAFSA,”

Booker stated, “we highly encourage them to provide documentation. We can review their circumstances and determine if [their change in income] then result in additional financial aid.” The Office of Financial Aid intends to continue working with families to provide as much assistance as possible, both in the short and long term.

The Office of Financial Aid has also been issuing aid specifically for current students from Puerto Rico. Booker stated, “in the short term, we awarded an equivalent amount to the Florida Resident Access Grant for the spring semester.” This is equivalent to approximately $2,000 for the spring semester.

Booker also stated, “for the neediest current students from Puerto Rico, as defined by the FAFSA, we increased their need-based grants by $2,000 for the year.” Booker noted that this financial aid was issued before any current students from Puerto Rico appealed for income re-evaluation.

Hopefully, as the situation in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean develops, the aid of Rollins and other Florida state colleges and universities will help those displaced by Hurricane Irma and Maria, providing these students with hope in an otherwise desperate situation.

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