Win Min was offered a scholarship to study as an international student at the University of Oregon in 2008. However, it wasn’t until 2010 that Min could accept his tuition-paying International Cultural Service Program Scholarship and enroll. As the child of humble vegetable farmers working as a community English teacher for a salary of $50 a week in Myanmar, it took Min two full years to save enough for living expenses in the U.S. so he could immigrate on an official student visa.
“It is very, very difficult to be able to come and study in the U.S., even if you get academy scholarships from the University,” Min, a Public Policy Planning and Management major said. “You must show that your family income will be able to support you while you are studying in the United States … that is a lot. That’s why not many students can afford to get a visa.”
United States immigration policy forbids eligibility for a student visa without demonstration of a prospective student’s ability to cover all “anticipated educational and living expenses” during their first academic year in the U.S., according to the University of Oregon International Student Financial Statement. Proof of funds must be documented in terms of personal or sponsor savings, or government-awarded funds.
For Min, that amounted to securing funding for more than $40,000 in educational fees.
“I wouldn’t be here without scholarships,” Min said. “I (was) just a community development volunteer. My family is just simple, normal farmers who grew vegetables and other crops. They never would have made this amount of money.”
International students face significant obstacles to studying in the U.S. At high-end private schools, equal admissions to international students is denied depending on socioeconomic status. For international students at the UO, it’s not the admissions process that skews attendance equality — it’s the government.
“At the University of Oregon we are need-blind in the admissions process,” enrollment management vice president Roger Thompson said. “As it relates to international students studying in the U.S., they have to be able to show their ability to pay (one full year tuition) … that’s not a University of Oregon thing, that’s a United States thing.”
Renowned private universities such as Stanford and Brown are in the midst of mediating their denial of “need-blind” admissions for international applicants, which has led to practices restricting the admittance of international students based on their ability to pay tuition. In contrast, the UO practices need-blind admissions for all students. This means that regardless of residential standing – in state, out-of-state, domestic or international – applicants are admitted based on academic and extracurricular merit, not financial need.
Despite the UO’s more equitable admissions practices, international students face significant barriers to attendance because of government immigration finance policies and limited financial aid.
According to Assistant Director for International Recruitment Robert Hardin, international students can receive scholarships and loans from their home countries. However, the amount and availability of scholarships varies dramatically by region and loans often require a credit history and collateral often not possessed by applicants. What’s more, international students are prohibited from receiving U.S. federal aid, and are restricted in their employment ability to on-campus jobs at no more than 20 hours a week.
Such restrictions make it incredibly difficult to secure enough funding to get that visa.
Although the immigration policy is tough, both admissions coordinators and some international students themselves believe that the legislation is a fair way to protect foreign students in the U.S. from financial destitution.
“We can’t have international students coming here who can’t afford to be here,” Hardin said. “I think it’s a tough policy, but I don’t see another way to do it.”
To lessen the financial burden of international costs, the UO and International Student and Scholar Services program has made a number of scholarships and alternatives to federal aid available to the international student population. Examples of these include an international student work study program, scholarships and donor endowments.
According to Abe Schafermeyer, UO director of international student and scholar services, approximately $1.3 million is annually awarded to the UO population of roughly 2,500 international students from 90 different countries. Still, he says, with rising tuition cost and international admittance, there’s not enough to go around.
Over his last two years in the U.S., Min, the international student from Myanmar, has watched the value of his scholarship decline because of increasing tuition costs. Currently, the ICSP scholarship only covers the cost of 10 of the 12 credits demanded for Min to be considered a full-time student — requiring that he supplement his school studies with a 20-hour work week to pay his extra credit costs and living expenses.
Schafermeyer says that although Min’s situation is unfortunate, it isn’t uncommon. Over the last years he has found himself trying to balance the financial security of international students with their geographical and economic diversity, a difficult task that has resulted in a decrease in new scholarship recipients and additional pressure for existing candidates.
“I don’t want these students to fall into a situation where they can’t finish … but I also don’t want to decrease the number of underrepresented countries that want to live and learn in this country,” Schafermeyer said. “The challenge is that each year tuition is increasing, but the amount of the scholarship funding is not.”
Schafermeyer believes that in comparison to other public universities, the UO does an above average job of offering scholarships for interested international students. However, as costs continue to rise, he believes it’s imperative that scholarship funding increase to maintain international diversity.
“Our international student population is expected to grow and we want to keep a rich diversity of international students on our campus,” Schafermeyer said. “I hope to make the scholarship programs grow by raising awareness around campus of the many benefits that international students bring to our university community.”