There has been plenty of finger-pointing in the wake of the historic devastation caused last week by Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent flooding in the city of New Orleans.

And while there should be a thorough review of the procedures and steps taken last week by federal, state and local officials as they attempted to help citizens affected by the storm, it seems now is the time to concentrate efforts on what can be done to bring back a sense of normalcy to those who are trying to rebuild their lives.

For college students, normalcy means the simple pleasures of going to class, participating in extra-curricular activities, taking part in social events and working at a job or two to help make ends meet.

Of course, any sense of normalcy will be difficult to attain in the affected regions of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama, where all things collegiate must take a back seat to putting food on the table and a roof over one’s head.

Tulane University has already announced it has suspended operations for the first semester, and other schools in the tri-state region have made or are contemplating similar announcements.

Even for those schools which remain “open,” it is fair to say that life will be anything but normal. Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, for instance, has become an emergency shelter for thousands of displaced state residents, as well as an important medical facility for those in need of critical care.

With all of the above in mind, it is especially heartening to see many U.S. colleges and universities, in parts of the country away from the physical ravages of the hurricane, open their doors to those affected by its impact.

In Virginia, for instance, the state’s flagship university, UVA, has offered to take students from schools in the affected region who are academically qualified, and reports indicate that more than 70 young people are Charlottesville bound, ready to start or to resume their studies while their own institution concentrates on the important tasks of making certain that classroom buildings can be occupied and residence halls may be inhabited.

And Virginia is not the only place to welcome displaced students with open arms. Other schools have already announced plans to do the same, or have at least signaled that they hope to offer a special transfer waiver, as soon as they nail down details of how additional students could be housed.

These “Good Samaritan” efforts by America’s colleges and universities are an example of our country at its best. Encouraged by their leading national organizations, such as the American Council on Education and the Association of American Universities, to do what they can to help out, each school is making a decision on its own, in a way that best reflects that culture and ethos of the institution.

In the end, a process like this, with help bubbling up from the grassroots, will be much more effective than a national directive to disperse students from the affected schools, as such a move would undoubtedly bring a host of regulatory and legal requirements with it, drawing out the process unnecessarily and potentially squandering an entire semester before approvals were granted.

At College Parents of America, our hearts go out to those who were impacted by the terrible calamity called Katrina, most especially to those who lost family members and close friends. We cite the efforts by colleges and universities to help affected students as an important beacon of hope, but at the same we realize that the ability to take Econ 101 is far less important than the ability to find and care for loved ones, or to begin the long and painful task of making a home habitable and a community livable.