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Special funds, tuition breaks aid seminarians’ return to N.O.

NEW ORLEANS (BP)–Through every step of the recovery from Hurricane Katrina, Southern Baptists have walked alongside New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Thanks to the Cooperative Program and additional giving by churches and individuals, the move back to campus and the fall 2006 semester will be no exception.

Immediately following the storm, NOBTS provided emergency assistance funds, given by Southern Baptists, to students who experienced significant losses. The NOBTS administration began making plans to establish the “Back to Campus” fund to assist students who lived on the campus during the storm to return for the 2006 fall semester.

NOBTS campus residential students who suffered flooding or other severe hurricane damage to their housing and who return to campus as fulltime students for the fall 2006 semester will receive the following:

— Single students –- $2,000

— Married students with no children –- $3,000

— Married students with children -– $4,000

New Orleans campus residential students who were on campus in August 2005 but did not suffer flooding or other severe damage to their housing and who return to campus for the fall 2006 semester as fulltime students will receive the following:

— Single students –- $1,000

— Married students with no children –- $1,500

— Married students with children -– $2,000

The funds will be distributed to students during the week of fall registration, Aug. 14-18. Students with questions about their eligibility or other questions regarding the funds should contact the dean of students office at (504) 282-4455, ext. 3283. Additional information about the plan is available at www.nobts.edu.

The seminary also will help new fulltime students enrolling for the first time this fall. Each new New Orleans campus student -– whether in undergraduate, graduate or doctor of philosophy programs — will receive a $500 tuition credit to his or her account.

The credit is designed to make the move easier for students who want to be a part of rebuilding the city. In addition, a number of new scholarships have been developed and are available to new and returning students. Information about scholarships is available through the student financial aid office at (504) 282-4455, ext. 3348.

SBC Executive Committee members unanimously approved the use of all Cooperative Program funds received for national SBC causes above the 2004-05 budget, ending Sept. 30, for assisting in hurricane relief. Contributions exceeded the approved budget by $12,496,728.55 and the extra amount was redirected with 50 percent to New Orleans Seminary (to aid faculty and students recover from losses and to help rebuild the campus), 25 percent to the North American Mission Board (to support the extensive hurricane disaster relief operations) and 25 percent allocated according to need among the Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama state conventions (to keep ministers in the field and to assist churches in recovery).

NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said, “We can’t overstate our appreciation to Southern Baptists for making this assistance possible. We are not aware of any other institution in the Gulf Coast that is providing this kind of help to its students. We can do so only because of the generosity of Southern Baptists.

“With the Back to Campus fund, new student tuition credits, more scholarships and the great job market with high-paying jobs, it will be more affordable to be a New Orleans campus student than at any time in recent years,” Lemke said.

All main campus undergraduate and master’s-level students also will benefit from the small tuition rollback trustees approved during their April meeting. The campus tuition rate for Southern Baptist undergraduate students will decrease from $135 per credit hour to $130 and the rate for Southern Baptist graduate students from $130 per credit hour to $125. To further assist students during the upcoming year, trustees voted to maintain the 2005-06 housing rates through the 2006-07 school year.

As the reconstruction continues, the seminary is on the verge of opening a portion of its student housing units. All student housing units have been cleaned and repainted since the flood. Damaged student apartments have been gutted, cleaned using a rigorous mold abatement process, and restored. Air quality tests have been performed on each unit.

“The air quality in student apartments is that of an acute care hospital, not just the typical residential standard,” Lemke said of the high standards used in cleaning out the mold.

The tentative date for opening the Manor Apartments for students with families and the Courtyard Apartments for single students is June 1. The two-bedroom Oaks Apartments and the three- and four-bedroom Farnsworth Apartments are expected to open June 15. Willingham Manor is tentatively scheduled to open July 24.

Due to significant upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems, the men’s and women’s dorms — Hamilton, Lipsey and Carey — are schedule to open Aug. 11. However, administrators will allow those who apply to live in the dorms to move into the Courtyard Apartments starting June 1. All students in the Courtyard Apartments will be charged a special interim rate of $300 per month until the dorms reopen in August.

Currently, restoration remains on schedule to facilitate these tentative opening dates, seminary officials said. However, the dates depend on weather and other factors that are outside the control of the seminary and the contractor. More information about campus housing and a tentative move-in schedule are available at www.nobts.edu/Housing.

When families return to campus this summer, they will have a new playground to enjoy. Located near Farnsworth Apartments, the new playground was donated by Samaritan’s Purse and constructed by Kids Around the World in March. Restoration work will soon be complete on the seminary’s largest family recreation area, Sunshine Park.

The seminary also will change its daily class schedule next year to be more flexible for commuter and working students. Classes will meet at 8 and 9:30 a.m. and after the chapel break at 12:30 and 2 p.m. to allow students more flexibility in scheduling all morning or all afternoon classes or for commuters to schedule all their classes on a two-day schedule.

Those who return to New Orleans will face a much different city than the one they left last August. Not all of those changes are negative. Two examples of positive changes are the establishment of many new public charter schools and a better-paying job market.

For years Orleans Parish public schools have lagged behind the rest of the state. The district faced countless financial troubles and standardized test scores constantly were among the worst in the state of Louisiana.

Following Katrina, the state took control of the ailing public school system. Many of the public schools that reopened after the storm reopened as charter schools. Other parish public schools will be operated by the state in order to improve the quality of education.

Parents who plan to enroll their children in public education no longer are locked into one particular school but may select any parish public school. Each charter school has a separate application process open to any child in Orleans Parish.

To help seminary families navigate these school changes, the seminary has added Sheryl Ray to the staff to serve as an educational consultant. She has compiled a number of helpful resources for parents on public schools, parish schools and homeschooling. The information is available at www.nobts.edu/Students under the “Children’s Education” link.

Entry-level jobs now are paying between $8 to $10 per hour and “Help Wanted” signs can be seen at businesses throughout the city. Before the hurricane, entry-level jobs frequently were paying between $6-7 per hour. Many church positions and new church plants also are in need of church staff. Numerous local churches have expressed their eagerness for NOBTS students to return and work in their churches.

“The tremendous work of Southern Baptist Disaster Relief has created an openness to the gospel throughout the Gulf South,” Lemke said. “Students who come to NOBTS this fall will not only receive a high-quality theological education, but they also may be privileged to be part of a great movement of God.”