Throughout this semester, at least two students have publicized their inability to pay for a Cornell education and resorted to online crowdfunding platforms to pay off the balances owed to the University. Late last month, Jonah Okike-Hephzibah ’18, who identified himself as an undocumented student, started a GoFundMe page to avoid being removed from Cornell. Within days, he raised over $20,000. Days later, Nikolai Lumpkins ’16 followed suit and has since raised over $5,000.
The generosity of the Cornell community in response to fellow students’ needs is remarkable and demonstrative of how our capacious campus shrinks to help those in crisis or need. However, the fact that Okike-Hephzibah and Lumpkins needed to turn to crowdsourcing as a solution to their financial need is troublesome and causes us to wonder how many more students with similar situations walk among us each day. As described by John Lowry ’16, president of the Class of 2016, crowdfunding is not a long-term solution to solve the financial challenges facing some students across campus.
One of the issues highlighted by Okike-Hephzibah’s campaign is international student financial aid. Both domestic and international students are admitted to Cornell need-blind, meaning their ability to pay does not influence their admissions decision. However, only domestic students that demonstrate financial need are guaranteed a support package that will enable them to attend Cornell. While we understand that the University is under federal and state legal obligations to only award government-sponsored financial aid to citizens and legal residents of the United States, our growing international — and, possibly undocumented — student populations deserve the respect afforded to domestic students.
We recognize the issues surrounding financial aid are complex and will not be solved instantaneously. But as Cornell reevaluates its priorities with its next fundraising initiatives, we urge the University to consider ways to make the Office of Financial Aid more accessible to Cornellians in an effort to reduce misunderstandings and to continue to increase the available amount of aid to all students. When students continue to struggle to afford the costs of attending this University and to understand the inner workings of Day Hall, additional work must be done to bridge that gap.