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NACAC Urges Support and Flexibility for Students and Schools Affected by Southern California Wildfires

More than 200,000 people have been forced from their homes and 265 schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) and surrounding communities are closed as wildfires continue to rage in parts of Southern California. A full list of affected Los Angeles schools is available on the LAUSD website.

Students and staff in many Southern California districts were told not to report due to smoke and ash that have permeated the air from fires. Local officials are bracing for more fires in the coming days.

NACAC encourages US colleges, universities, and others involved in the admission process to show flexibility to students whose communities have been impacted by the wildfires.

Extending patience, care, and concern to those affected will be important in the days and months ahead, said NACAC member Youlonda Copeland-Morgan, vice provost of enrollment management at the University of California—Los Angeles.

According to news outlets in Los Angeles, one of the fires is burning just a few miles from UCLA. The university cancelled classes on Thursday. The fires also reached the perimeter of St. Thomas Aquinas College, which canceled classes on Tuesday, but there was no serious damage to structures on campus. Other institutions are affected as well, and NACAC will continue to assemble information about local schools, colleges, and universities impacted by the fires.   

“The most important thing we can do for students is to show compassion, be flexible with our deadlines, increase our sensitivity to the documentation required to show financial hardship through the financial aid process, and to work in partnership with our high schools and community colleges on making decisions regarding admission and financial aid applications,” Copeland-Morgan said.

Colleges and universities that have posted information for impacted students on their websites are asked to fill out this short survey. NACAC will update its online database as member colleges and universities share what flexibilities their campuses are offering students who have been affected by weather or fire events.

In the meantime, Copeland-Morgan offered these practical suggestions for admission and college counseling professionals.

Postsecondary:

  • Post guidance on gateway pages of admission and financial aid websites about how your college or university will accommodate students affected by the fires. Post new policies and procedures front and center on the site making them easily accessible. Necessary forms should be easy to access as well. Consider putting the forms in multiple places on the site to make it easier for families to locate. Also consider putting links to the forms or instructions on other key university website pages.

  • Provide guidance on how students can complete or make changes to their FAFSA/(California) Dream Act applications to let colleges know that they have been affected by the fires. Give clear and easy-to-follow instructions on how to complete the forms. For example, the CSS Profile asks: “Do you own a home?” Consider how those who have lost a home would respond to this question.

  • Be as flexible as possible with admission application deadlines for students in the fire areas. Understand that computers have been lost, access to wi-fi is not readily available to some, and services in some high schools have been interrupted.

  • Provide feeder schools in affected areas with a contact number of an individual staff member who can manage calls about the fires.

Secondary:

  • Be flexible with test dates and other key assignments that may impact the grades of students who are displaced by the fires. Consider setting up re-test days for class exams and posting new deadlines for major projects.

  • Visit NACAC’s online database to learn about the flexibilities that colleges and universities are extending to students affected by natural disasters.
     

NACAC board member Ffiona Rees, who serves as senior associate director of evaluation and international admission at UCLA, echoed Copeland-Morgan’s call for compassion.

“Sadly, I suspect many more students and families will be impacted and will likely need awareness of deadlines over the next few weeks,” Rees said. “If they are lucky, most families are fleeing with the bare essentials.”

Looking for ways to help? Consider donating to the Red Cross today.

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