May 1, 2014

Students Allege Cornell International Diversity Lacking

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Undergraduate international students are not as economically diverse as domestic students — partially because of a lack of financial aid available to them — students say.

International students make up approximately 10 percent of the undergraduate population and 19.5 percent of all enrolled students, according to the International Students and Scholars Office.

However, international students do not have the same access to financial aid as domestic students do, according to Enrico Bonatti ’14, international liaison at-large for the Student Assembly and president of International Students Board.

“A lot of qualified students who want to come here just can’t,” Chua said. “It’s not just the tuition fees. It’s the plane tickets, the housing, the food. [Living overseas] is expensive.” —Dennis Chua ’14

Because Cornell is a land-grant institution, there are government restrictions on how the endowment can be used to financially support undergraduate international students, according to Bonatti.

As a result, not every international student who demonstrates financial need is funded, according to Shivang Tayal ’16 — incoming S.A. international liaison at-large.

“Cornell’s policy does not allow international transfer students and upperclassmen non-financial aid international students to apply for aid,” Tayal said. “[According] to Cornell’­s policy, while admitted international students must demonstrate financial need to be eligible for financial aid, not all international students who demonstrate need will be funded. While 50 percent of 2012-13 full time undergraduates received need-based financial aid from Cornell, the figure for internationals remains much lower.”

The “very limited” amount of financial support that Cornell offers international students prevents qualified students from attending and restricts the economic diversity of enrolled international students, according to Alvin Wijaya ’14, an international student from Singapore.

“Two of my high school friends who got accepted could not attend Cornell, as their financial aid applications were rejected,” he said. “They went to the local university instead. Sadly, I do believe that international students are less economically diverse than domestic students.”

Other international students shared similar stories about how the lack of financial aid offered to international students limited their educational opportunities.

“My teachers in China discourage us to apply for financial aid [because our applications would be turned down anyway],” Yixuan Zhang ’17 said. “[As a result,] few of us applied for financial aid. Our parents are aware of this and are ready to pay.”

The students whose families cannot afford to pay often have to find sponsorship to fund them, Dennis Chua ’14 said.

“A lot of qualified students who want to come here just can’t,” Chua said. “It’s not just the tuition fees. It’s the plane tickets, the housing, the food. [Living overseas] is expensive.”

Often, students applying from abroad must form contracts with their home country’s government or companies in order to finance their education, according to Chua — who previously had a scholarship with the Singapore government. Several of these contracts and scholarships require students to return to their home country and spend several years working for the company that sponsored them.

The University, however, has made efforts to alleviate the financial burdens of international students.

President David Skorton said at a February S.A. meeting the University had seen a “slow” increase in financial aid available to international students — however the administration was struggling to raise more — The Sun previously reported.

Currently the University offers the Tata Scholarship — a scholarship awarded to approximately 20 Indian students every year — through a $25 million endowment established by trustee Ratan Tata ’59, BArch ’62, according to Bonatti.

Trustee Martin Tang ’70, a Hong Kong businessman, raised over four million dollars for international student financial aid in 2013, The Sun previously reported. Tang has helped increased financial aid available for international students by 19 percent since 2008.

These efforts — while “slow” — are headed in the right direction, Wijaya said.

“It is amazing to see how much diversity a relatively small sum of international financial aid can create. I know fellow students who hail from countries such as Kenya, the Philippines and Nigeria who are financial aid recipients,” he said. “These people have amazing stories and have done amazing things here … that definitely shape the Cornell identity: ‘Any person any study.’”