Corinne Kenwood / Sun Staff Photographer

Senior Vice Provost Barbara Knuth announced at last week's Student Assembly meeting that the AFAWG rejected the option for need-aware transfer admissions.

May 5, 2017

Cornell Officials Defend Need-Aware Policy for Admitting International Students

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Two Cornell officials sat before the final Student Assembly meeting of the academic year on Thursday and were grilled for 45 minutes over the University’s recent decision to take the financial need of international students into account during the admissions process.

Senior Vice Provost Barbara Knuth, who is also dean of the Graduate School, and Laura Spitz, vice provost for international affairs, defended the practice, known as need-aware admissions, saying international students are among the University’s “chief priorities” as about 30 students stood silently in protest, holding signs that read, “any person, any study.”

Asked if the new policy — in effect for the first time for students in the Class of 2021 — means international students with no financial need have a better chance of being admitted, Knuth said need-aware means admissions staff can “more carefully target” aid to students who need it most.

“It has always, for decades, been the case that more international students who don’t receive financial aid have been admitted to Cornell because the international financial aid budget, because of the limitations on the resources available, [has] always, for decades, meant that fewer students who have financial need would be admitted and able to enroll in Cornell, so that piece has not changed,” she said.

“What has changed is that now we know ahead of time very clearly how much financial need students with need have so we can more carefully target the aid that we have available to those students who are most in need.”

Knuth said Cornell has enrolled 65 incoming international freshman students who require financial aid, eight more than the 57 she said enrolled in 2016.

There were 1,554 international undergraduate students at Cornell in the fall of 2016, making up 10.7 percent of the University’s undergraduate enrollment, according to University statistics. International students make up 22 percent of the undergraduate, professional and graduate schools combined.

“This is not intended to [lead to] admitting a large number of low-need students,” Knuth said. “The point of doing this is to continue to privilege financial aid for the neediest, highly-qualified students.”

Many students criticized the measure on Thursday in the Willard Straight Hall Memorial Room, invoking Ezra Cornell’s 1868 phrase, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.”

Saim Chaudhary ’17 said the University is already admitting primarily richer international students and that the new policy would exacerbate the status quo.

“I have friends who would not have come to the U.S., who would not have been my roommates, if this policy had been place,” he said. “I think this limits the number of international students who might end up coming.”

“Why is it still not ‘any person … any study?’” he said. “We are not asking you to increase the amount of financial aid, we’re asking you to keep it the same.”

Spitz, the vice provost, said she was an international student at Cornell and believes they “matter to this administration and this faculty and I believe it’s in our DNA” to make international students a chief priority.

Jaëlle Sanon ’19 said she was concerned the policy is going to prioritize higher-income international students over low-income international students during the admissions process.

“If there are two, very qualified applicants, they will take the higher-income student over the low-income student and I don’t think that speaks to Cornell’s ‘any person … any study’ motto and I don’t think that’s the kind of community we should be,” Sanon told The Sun after the meeting.

“Need-aware literally means [Cornell is] looking at your need in addition to what you can provide to this community,” she said, adding that Cornell is broadcasting the message to international students that “if you can’t provide money to us, we don’t need you.”

Knuth also continued to criticize The Sun for a report in February detailing a working group’s draft report that showed the group was considering admitting more international students who do not require financial need and expanding need-aware admissions to transfer students, among seven other proposals.

Knuth, who chaired the Admissions and Financial Aid Working Group, testified before the University Hearing Board last month during a public hearing at which the Office of the Judicial Administrator accused Mitch McBride ’17 of violating the Campus Code of Conduct by leaking the documents to The Sun, which he admitted publicly.

The University was the complainant in the case, and Knuth submitted an incident report and additional evidence to the associate judicial administrators. The hearing board found that McBride had not violated the Code by leaking the documents.

“In the [working group] report that was released, unfortunately, … there was a proposal for a need-aware admissions for another student population,” Knuth said on Thursday, referring to transfer students. The dean added that it was necessary for the working group to put all ideas on the table in order to “have a full understanding of options and the negative aspect of those options.”

“That option was soundly rejected and it’s very much a shame that the Daily Sun picked it up,” she said.