March 6, 2018

GUEST ROOM | Cornell Should Empower International Economics Students

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International students are integral to Cornell’s campus, mission and values. There is no denying the value and diversity that their presence brings to this campus. Yet international students face many unique barriers at Cornell and are often treated as second-class students. They are the only group subjected to need-aware admissions following the administration’s decision to terminate need-blind policy a couple of years ago. They are the only constituency ineligible to re-apply for financial aid under any circumstances. There was also a sudden termination of Curricular Practical Training (work authorization international students require for summer internships) and the withdrawal of International work-study, both of which were reinstated only after students’ active efforts to demonstrate how essential these were to their college experience. There seems to be a gap between Cornell’s alleged values and its actions regarding international students. A gap which remains all too wide.

Yet we are convinced that the Cornell administration wants the best for us, even at a time where xenophobic, anti-immigrant, and racist sentiments are on the rise in the U.S. The creation of an International committee with the Vice Provost of International Affairs and recent mental health and career counseling initiatives by the International Students and Scholars Office demonstrate this intent.

We would therefore like to present an ideal opportunity for the University to make an invaluable contribution to the livelihood of its international constituents: By certifying Cornell’s Economics major with a CIP code 45.0603 (Econometrics and Quantitative Economics), which would classify it as a STEM program according to the Department of Homeland Security. Such a move would immensely benefit Cornell’s international Economics majors.

International graduates of STEM-designated programs are eligible for what’s known as the STEM OPT (Operation Practical Training) extension, which enables them to work in their field for a total of up to 36 months in the U.S. By contrast, students with degrees in non-STEM fields are only eligible for 12 months of OPT work authorization. The extra months that students in STEM programs can spend on OPT makes them more hirable, grants them extended professional training and gives them additional chances in the annual lottery for the limited number of H-1B skilled worker visas.

Many of Cornell’s peer institutions have recently certified their Economics programs under the 45.0603 code, while having the same or nearly the same course requirements as Cornell. These institutions include Yale, Columbia, Brown, NYU, Princeton, Williams, MIT, Pomona, Wisconsin-Madison, Wellesley and the University of Southern Florida. The table below demonstrates that Cornell is lagging behind its Ivy-League peers, as five out of seven have already recertified their Economics majors, and a sixth (UPenn) is currently considering the move.

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The recertification of our Economics program also corresponds more closely to the quantitative and analytical nature of the Cornell major. Many Economics majors take the recommended class Calculus II, which includes study of advanced integration methods and infinite series. This places our students on-par with the math requirements of even the most quantitative Ivy-League Economics programs. Many of the Cornell Economics classes at the 3,000-level and beyond utilize partial differential equations and econometric methods. All Economics students gain proficiency in at least one statistical programming language (STATA) as part of the required Econometrics class. Cornell’s Economics program is definitely more technical than NYU’s government-certified STEM courses like “Journalism.” Cornell’s Economics major also matches the requirements of the 45.0603 code, as described by the US Department of Education.

Given the experiences of our peer institutions with nearly identical (but STEM-designated) Economics programs, we are unaware that the change would necessitate any alterations to the Cornell Economics curriculum. For peer institutions, the change in CIP certification involved a mere technicality. Despite holding nearly identical academic qualifications, international graduates of Cornell Economics face lower employability, significantly less time to work in the U.S. and lower chances of obtaining H-1B visas. Cornell prides itself as a premier Ivy League University, but how can it do so truthfully when it neglects to afford its international students equal opportunities to those of peer institutions?

While recruitment is a stressful time for all students, international students face the added pressure of requiring work authorization. This issue has been compounded in the past by Cornell’s inability to provide timely CPT work authorization for internships. Companies are becoming more reluctant to hire international students, a trend intensified by a political climate hostile to immigration. Even fairly large firms including A.T. Kearney, Pepsi, Unilever and Accenture do not accept international student applicants. Smaller firms are even less inclined to sponsor internationals. For employers hiring international students, a STEM degree is more attractive: It triples the period international students can work, signals their technical skills, and increases the probability of long-term employee retention.

We appreciate that the policies which govern the definitions of majors and their associated CIP codes are not entirely internal to Cornell. However, such bureaucratic procedures present a mere temporary hurdle to implementation. Given that Columbia University recertified its Financial Economics major within 3 months and its Economics major in 5 months, we hope that the administration will make appropriate haste on behalf of its international students. The recertification of the Economics major is critical to the professional careers of all international students within the major. It presents the perfect opportunity for the Cornell administration to demonstrate its commitment to all students: Any person. Any study. Any country
The authors are students and alumni of Cornell University. Comments can be sent to Guest Room runs periodically this semester.

Christopher Schott ’18 is the international students liaison at-large of the Student Assembly. Akhilesh Issur ’17  and Shivang Tayal ’16 were the international students liaison at-large, of the Student Assembly for the 2016-17 and the 2015-16 term, respectively. Dean Xu ’18 is the president of the International Students Union, Binoy Jhaveri ’16 was the president for the 2015-16 term. Chiara Benitez ’19 is the vice president of advocacy of the International Students Union. Robin Wang ‘18 is the president of the Cornell Economics Society.