November 12, 2002

C.U. Lowest Ivy in International Aid

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A 2001-2002 survey conducted of 102 American Colleges and Universities ranked Cornell University forty-sixth in total aid rewarded to international students. The survey of financial aid awards — conducted by Doug Thompson, the U.S. admission representative of the University of Aberdeen, Scotland — reported that the University awarded $1,300,000 last year to students from countries other than the United States, Canada and Mexico.

This places Cornell below every other Ivy League school with Harvard leading in rewards of $9,648,870 last year.

Numerous small schools, such as Macalester College, Wesleyan University and Middlebury College also rank above Cornell, despite their much smaller student population.

The survey reported that last year, 47 of Cornell’s 978 international undergraduates were receiving aid.

Wellesley College also gave 47 students aid, though their international student population was only 130. Members of the admissions committees feel that these figures may suggest a need for Cornell to review its policies towards international students.

“Cornell, if it wants to be a world-class institution, should do more to bring in the best students from the rest of the world,” said Dan Evett, coordinator of international admissions of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Each year, only about five percent of incoming international students in the College of Arts and Sciences receive financial aid each year, Evett stated. Cornell did significantly better, however, in its average amount of aid rewarded relative to the other schools.

To those international students to whom financial aid is presented, the average amount last year was $27,660, placing it in one of the top ten for this category. “Awards are very generous because they usually go to very high-need families, especially from Eastern Europe and Africa,” Evett added.

However, he explained this aid is based on loans more than grants as compared to other top institutions.

“We will give an award to an exceptional candidate but they will go somewhere else because our reward will have a loan component,” Evett said.

Wendy Schaerer, coordinator for international admissions, felt that these published numbers did not accurately reflect the amount of financial aid awarded to international undergraduates because those students from Canada and Mexico were not included.

“Cornell does have a lot more Canadian students than most universities,” she said.

When including these two groups, however, Evett reports that the number of students in the College of Arts and Sciences receiving aid each year would only grow to be a little over five percent. Shaerer agrees that the funding for international students is limited.

“The desire to fund all American students coming to the University is certainly a priority,” Shaerer said.

With the money that is available for international students, many see awarding the graduate students as a more valuable way to spend the money, as they may promote Cornell internationally. Others see creating a diverse undergraduate student body as a higher priority and thus see the money best expended on them.

This limited financial aid also affects the actual admissions process, as choosing which international students to accept is not done in a need-blind manner, but rather in a “need-sensitive” way, according to Evett. By this approach, the most exceptional of the international students are admitted, regardless of their ability to pay for a Cornell education, with hopes that financial aid will pull through in some capacity.

“In effect, there are a number of students who are not admitted, whom if this person had the money, we’d gladly accept,” Evett said.

Thus, a clear distinction is made in the process between certain candidates and others, according to Evett.

A committee has recently been appointed by Doris Davis, associate provost of admissions and enrollment, to review the issue of financial aid to international students.

No results have yet been concluded from the committee.

Archived article by Amy Green