August 29, 2017

Office of Financial Aid Pulls Plug on Foreign Student Employment Program

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A week before the beginning of classes this fall, international students on financial aid were notified they would no longer be eligible to participate in Federal Work Study jobs for the upcoming semester and beyond.

The 130-word email sent from the Office of Financial Aid and Student Employment told students that the Foreign Student Employment Program — the program that makes international students eligible for work study jobs — had been defunded.

“After a careful review of the Foreign Student Employment Program, including a budgetary review, the decision has been made that funding for the program is no longer available,” Student Employment Advisor Nicole Waterman said in the email.

International student Ming Khan ’18, an employee at the library since her freshman year, was surprised when she unexpectedly was told her that the program would no longer be funded.

“I got an email saying that the funding for the program is not there anymore, [and] should we choose to work in a qualifying department, the department would be responsible for 100 percent of our wages,” she said. “I asked my supervisor what that means for us, and she said that they will discuss it and let us know.”

Gideon Amoah ’19, another international student who also works at the library, was upset to see the change.

“I’ve been working there since 2015 and, well, you build relationships,” he said. “The program made it easier for us to work at the library, but now I think it’s our last semester working there.”

The library, on its end, is making some accommodations for the affected students.

“During 2016–17, Cornell University Library employed 20 students with the help of the Foreign Student Employment Program,” said Bonna Boettcher, director of John M. Olin Library, Uris Library and the Library Annex, in a statement to The Sun.

“In order to help mitigate the personal impact of the cuts on the students, we have offered to continue their employment through the fall 2017 semester, while knowing that this will affect our student employment budget for the remainder of the year,” Boettcher said.

The Sun reached out to the International Students and Scholars Office for comment, but they declined to comment since the ISSO is no longer directly involved with the financial aid process for international students.

Susan Hitchcock, director of the office of Financial Aid and Student Employment, defended the cut, saying that the Foreign Student Employment Program was essentially being used to “subsidize Cornell departmental budgets [by] paying student wages.”

“This seemed like an unnecessary practice, especially when those funds could be used for direct financial aid to international undergraduate students with financial need,” she said. “The hiring departments will employ the students without the subsidy, so spending $40,000 in that way was not the most impactful use of Cornell’s limited international financial aid resources.”

However, contrary to what Hitchcock said in terms of students being able to continue with their current employer, the library has declined to comment on anything definitive beyond the current semester.

According to Hitchcock, the money will be directed toward providing at least one additional international student with financial aid.

“Under the Foreign Student Employment Program, 30 students received subsidized wages, and the beneficiaries were the Cornell departments receiving the subsidy,” Hitchcock said. “Under the new approach, those 30 students can continue to work with their current employer and receive their full wages paid entirely by the hiring department while Cornell will be able to provide financial aid to at least one additional international student a year.”

Employment during the school year contributes to the “self help” portion of a student’s financial aid, according to the FWS website. Almost a quarter of the jobs on campus are FWS jobs, while the other three quarters pay all of an employee’s wages.

Amoah also said that financial aid was awarded almost a month before he was notified that the Foreign Student Employment Program would not be funded. Employment was counted as part of the financial aid, and at this time, he does not believe that the aid will be recalculated to include the change.

Nevertheless, Hitchcock encourages affected students to contact the office if they are having trouble finding a job due to the changes.

“As is the case for any student who is having difficulty finding a job, staff in our student employment office can offer assistance,” she said. “Given the large number of jobs available for students seeking employment and the job search information available on our website, we seldom encounter students who have difficulties finding a job. Let’s not forget that there are also thousands of jobs available across campus with departments willing to pay the full cost of employing students.”

This change is nonetheless severe for the international student community and comes after the admissions process for international students became need-aware.

“Now, if you are an international student with a high financial need, you need to be exceptional,” Khan said. “Otherwise, you won’t even be accepted. [It feels like] you’re only going to be awarded that aid, and by extension the acceptance if they really really want you. This means that you’re holding international students to a much higher standard, which is unfair.”