International students struggle with need-based finances at the UO

(Photo illustration by Jake Crump/Emerald)

(Photo illustration by Jake Crump/Emerald)

Posted by Sami Edge on Monday, May. 6 at 9:00 am.

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.”

  • SayWhat

    This isn’t news…American students who want to study abroad are in the same situation to have to prove they have at least the financial minimum (set by the country they’re going to) to support themselves while there in order to gain a visa.

    Additionally, student visas for Americans to study abroad have a similar working hour restriction – the idea being that a student is on a study abroad experience to study, not work.

  • UOtutor

    I’m glad someone finally wrote an article about this! I tutor International Students on campus and am surprised how high their tuition costs are (4 times the amount I pay). In many cases they come from much more competitive countries in Asia where studying abroad and learning English is practically required to help them get a decent paying career, unlike American students that go abroad.

  • Not Concerned

    Hard for me to be sympathetic to international students who drive around in BMWs, Lexus, and Range Rovers (the Asians) and the Ford muscle cars (the Arabs) . . . the UO is just educating elite kids from China, Korea, Saudi Arabia, etc. who are just going to go back to their countries and treat their lower income countrymen like crap–if they do go back at all . . .

    • Deprecating Duck

      like white cali frat boys don’t drive around in expensive cars as well.? compared to other “groups” on campus, I’m pretty sure the fobby int’l students aren’t the most elitist out of everyone…

      • laura

        let’s stop assuming that EVERY person from California is a snob.
        It’s like assuming every person from Oregon are hippies.
        Let’s try to not stereotype and assume, thanks.

        • Deprecating Duck

          then don’t stereotype and assume the int’l students. see how that feels? k thanks
          oh, also, californians aren’t a race or ethnicity… offended at the stereotype of cali kids being snobs? your loss. the notion of oregonians being hippies doesn’t offend me one bit

          • laura

            Who said I stereotyped them?? That wasn’t me in the first comment, so nice try.
            Uh no, I get offended when someone always asks me “oh did mommy and daddy buy that for you?”
            It’s the same thing with being a redhead… They get hated on and made fun of, but just because they’re not a race or ethnicity makes it OK to make fun of them? Your logic is flawed.

          • Deprecating Duck

            my oh my, so sensitive. so passionate. didn’t know california nationalism was a thing…

  • Not Concerned

    p.s. that Win Min, sounds like the exception though . . . doubt if he’s driving around in a luxury car . . .

  • anonymouse

    The International students are paying UO more money than our own government is in the long run. Making it cheaper isn’t going to help us out.

    And it’s silly to feel sorry for them, going to school (especially abroad) is a privilege, not a right. If only rich kids come, so be it. If they didn’t come, our own tuition would be sky high to cover the difference.

    • AnotherUOtutor

      Not all international students who come here are “privileged”. Some students come from countries where the socio-political situations do not permit them to attend universities in their home countries. There are countries where universities implement strict racial or gender quotas that prevent them from getting an university education.

      In fact, for many of them, it makes little sense for them to come to here to study because the education costs here cost wayyyyy more compared to other European/Asian/Australian universities. Some of them have to sign up for loans that cover their whole education because they don’t get financial aid.

  • IntlKid!

    I am an international student here, and contrary to the “popular belief” that international students drive in luxurious cars and wear big-branded clothes, I do not own any of these. There are not many jobs available on campus to international kids, and those who are lucky to get the international work-study scholarship have to compete with many other students to land a part-time job just to barely cover their living expenses.

    The University of course can do a better job to assist international students who are in need. The first thing I would like to mention is to be more transparent on the process of scholarships selection. There are cases where ICSP students whose family can totally support them. Abe, if you add facebook of all your ICSP kids, you ‘ll know some of them come from RICH families. You can’t just give $9,000/year to a kid whose parents own a big factory while he claimed he did not have enough money to cover his tuition.

    Scholarship matters aside, I believe that when you come to the US to study, you MUST be responsible for your tuition and living expenses here because you parents DO NOT pay taxes in the US. So, why are US colleges responsible to help you pay a majority of your tuition and fees? US schools can only help you a little bit since they have to take care of Americans first. Remember that studying in the US is a privilege, and if you can’t study in your home country due to whatever socioeconomic issues, then I’m sorry. Blame it on your government or study at a neighbor country where the costs would be substantial lower. The US does not own you ANYTHING. Of course many of you may say that I’m such a selfish person who do not care for world peace (yes! totally get that!), but the way a few international kids receive a big scholarship while many other students including Americans still have to pay student loans is ridiculous.

  • Guest

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  • GentlemanDennis

    As an Chinese student studying in your rival – Oregon State, I sense it’s the same case here.
    Sometimes I feel really depressed by how people judge intl students due to the stereotype that a lot of us drive luxurious cars while speak broken English w/ fobby and ridiculous accent. ( forgiving my opinion that I don’t think you’re totally entitled to study here based on the family asset you receive rather than your talent)

    I think the most unfair thing that I confront is the racial stereotype and the general idea upon us. For instance I like to swing by those frat party during weekends, the very occasion you could ditch engineering hmk (for male asian students) and supposedly enjoy the same leisure and fun native Americans have here. While as it turns out people still relate me to those intl students on campus.