Amherst College announced it is planning to admit Puerto Rican students displaced by Hurricane Maria.

Amherst is the first school in Massachusetts to allow the students to attend tuition-free starting next semester.

Since Maria devastated the island more than seven weeks ago, the University of Puerto Rico, the largest public university system on the island, has reopened but it is not fully operating, so thousands of students face uncertain academic futures.

Some mainland schools, including Brown, Cornell, Tulane and NYU, have already announced they will enroll University of Puerto Rico students.

Katie Fretwell, dean of admission at Amherst, says its program is open to students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Admitted students will be enrolled as full-time students in residence at Amherst and the College will cover all of their educational costs, including tuition and fees, room and board, books, transportation and health insurance.

Fretwell says the college will also pay for spring tuition at the students’ home institutions.

“One real difference of course for Puerto Rican students and those from the U.S. Virgin Islands is that they cannot drive away,” Fretwell said. “They can’t draw on a community as broadly as a place like Houston.”

Fretwell says accepted students will be responsible for transferring their credits from Amherst to their school in Puerto Rico.

The deadline to apply is next month. Amherst says it will decide how many students to admit based on the number of available beds in the spring.

Amherst’s announcement comes days after Massachusetts House Ways and Means Committee Chair Jeffrey Sanchez called out local colleges and universities because they had not opened their gates to Puerto Rican students displaced by the hurricane.

“Puerto Rican students are bi-cultural, they’re bi-literate,” Sanchez said. “It’s a very strong force and I can’t believe that in all the grandeur of all these institutions, not one university in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has said we will take Puerto Rican students.”

In Rhode Island, Brown has said the university won’t charge 50 Puerto Rican students tuition or fees. The Ivy League university is assisting them with travel and housing.

Earlier: Amherst Considers Both Race And Class In Diversity Search

[Cross-posted at On Campus: the WGBH News Higher Education Blog]

Kirk Carapezza

Kirk Carapezza is the lead reporter for On Campus. Kirk has reported for Wisconsin Public Radio in Madison, Wis., and Vermont Public Radio in Montpelier, Vt. He's been a writer and producer at WBUR in Boston; a teacher and coach at Nativity Preparatory School in New Bedford, Mass.; a Fenway Park tour guide; and a tourist abroad.

Kirk received his B.A. from the College of the Holy Cross and earned his M.S. from Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism. When he's not reporting or editing stories on campus, you can find him posting K's on the Wall at Fenway.