Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Provost Michael Kotlikoff

March 9, 2017

SA Discusses Changes to International Student Financial Aid, American Sign Language Courses

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Provost Michael Kotlikoff discussed changes to international student financial aid and the Student Assembly passed a referendum that would allow students to take American Sign Language for their college language requirement at their weekly meeting Thursday.

One of the recommendations of the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group was to increase the number of no-aid international students using need-aware admissions, should there be an economic downturn requiring greater control of grant expenditures.

Kotlikoff also discussed proposed changes in loan distributions such that they more accurately reflect income quintiles and potentially lowering the cutoff for incomes eligible for grants from $60,000 to $45,000.

“Some of these suggestions are increasing the [loan] amounts for certain income classes, others are decreasing the loan amounts for certain classes,” he said. “Second, do we need to look at changing the income brackets? Spreading this a little bit, changing where we break our financial aid policy and where our loans were.”

Tom Marin '17, August Larmer DiFilippo '17, and Rebecca Herz '18 speak at the SA Meeting on Thursday.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Tom Marin ’17, August Larmer DiFilippo ’17, and Rebecca Herz ’18 speak at the SA Meeting on Thursday.

Another recommendation Kotlikoff mentioned is evaluating where parent contributions to tuition were appropriate.

“Are there areas in which we can say parent contributions are not appropriate or are not as consistent as in other areas?” he said.

In terms of changes to international student aid, Kotlikoff said that Cornell does not “have the resources” to be need-blind for all international students.

“I spoke with S.A. last time I was here and talked about housing all our sophomores and slightly increasing our freshman intake,” Kotlikoff said. “If we do that, and we have some more international students, it will by necessity be need aware international students. Unless we’re successful in getting more endowment for international financial aid, it’ll increase that cohort.”

Chris Scott, a community member present at the S.A. meeting, expressed apprehension about the proposed financial aid changes.

“The number of international students that need aid will decrease relative to the number of students that need aid, and the report acknowledges that that will send a message to the international student community that rich international students are more likely to be accepted to Cornell University,” Scott said. “I think it will reflect very poorly on Cornell University.”

Kotlikoff said it was “unfortunate” that a draft about the financial working group was published in The Sun.

“One, that draft report did not really include the context for what we were talking about in financial aid, and absent of that context really alarmed people and gave them the wrong impression,” he said.

“And two, it was a draft document. The financial aid working group has been working since then. That document has changed quite a bit. It’s still not fully complete, but a lot of the recommendations are in flux,” Kotlikoff added.

Kotlikoff explained the history of financial aid at Cornell in recent years. He said that Cornell’s financial aid program used to be “less generous or extensive” than other Ivy League schools.

“Part of that is because we’re not as well endowed as those colleges and we have more students,” Kotlikoff explained. “However we made major commitments through our operating funds.”

Kotlifkoff said Cornell uses a greater percentage of its operating budget for financial aid than other Ivy league schools do.

“We’re paying now, on an adjusted basis, about $90 million a year more out of our operating budget than we did say in ’01, ’02,” Kotlikoff said. “And that has had, post the turn down in ’08, had a marked effect on all the budgets of the campus. But it is a major commitment that Cornell made to ‘any person.’”

He described how the cost of tuition has changed for different income quintiles, including the effect of inflation, and said that in recent years, the cost of education has decreased “dramatically” for the “bottom cohorts,” or students in the lowest income quintiles. He said that for students in the fourth quintile, which is the second highest income quintile, their tuition is about equal to what it was 20 years ago. For those in the highest income quintile of students receiving aid, the tuition “is starting to creep up” or increase on the graph he showed the assembly.

The graph showed that tuition has increased for students not receiving financial aid.

Provost Michael Kotlikoff presents a graph showing how cost of tuition has changed for different income quintiles.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Photography Editor

Provost Michael Kotlikoff presents a graph showing how cost of tuition has changed for different income quintiles.

“There’s a potential squeeze on individuals that are unaided, particularly at the lower income of the unaided class,” Kotlikoff said. “That’s one of the issues that I’ve asked the committee to look at.”

ASL to be Considered in Classrooms

Student Assembly also passed a referendum that would allow students to take American Sign Language to meet their language requirement with a vote of 24-0-1.

This vote will put the question “Should American Sign Language satisfy the foreign language requirement at Cornell?” on the S.A. election ballot later in March.

“Currently it does not satisfy the language requirement, so students are coming in with transfer credit,” said Mary Grace Hager ’19, co-president of Cornell University Deaf Awareness Project. “They can’t even fulfill it.”

She further noted that though there is currently no ASL class, students with background in the language should be able to earn credit for their ASL knowledge.

“If a student has American Sign Language experience, they clearly may have much difficulty learning another language, so it would benefit the community tremendously if they could have that credit count,” she said.

In addition to learning the language itself, students could learn about Deaf culture like they can learn about foreign cultures through other language courses, Hager said.

“Deaf culture is its own kind of culture,” she said. “There is a very strong community. This definitely fulfills the foreign language as teaching you a new culture, versing you in a new type of environment.”

Median Grades on Transcripts

Student Assembly also denied a referendum that would have allowed the question “Should median course grades be included on student transcripts?” to be on the S.A. election ballot.

Median grades on transcripts would hurt students’ self-confidence, said Mayra Valadez ’18, First Generation Student Representative at Large, calling it “unreasonable.”

“[First generation students] graduate at statistically lower rates, and a lot of the time it’s because we feel like an inadequacy in academics, in seeing our transcript and seeing that we did below the median,” she continued. “I think that’s detrimental to our emotional well-being and when we apply to jobs.”