April 15, 2018

University Assembly Recommends ‘Comprehensive Review’ of All Majors to Certify Potential STEM Programs

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Correction appended.

The University Assembly passed a resolution on April 10 requesting all 12 colleges to review their academic departments to identify majors that might qualify for STEM certification — a certification that would grant international students two additional years of work authorization in the United States.

The U.A. resolution specifically named applied economics and management, communication, archaeology and classics as possible majors eligible for STEM certification “without any change to their curriculum,” but asked the administrators to consider all majors for recertification.

The resolution follows a nearly identical document passed by the Student Assembly on March 8, which recommended the recertification of the economics major in the College of Arts and Sciences as a STEM major, The Sun previously reported.

President Martha E. Pollack said she will be “working with the [economics] department as they investigate the issue further” in her response to the S.A. resolution, but has yet to respond to the U.A. resolution. She must approve the resolution before it takes effect.

All majors are classified under Certification for Instructional Programs, or CIP codes, and allow international students to apply for Operation Practical Training, which allows them to legally work in the United States for up to one year after graduation.

However, international students in STEM majors are eligible for a 24-month OPT extension, according to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement website. During this extension, students can apply for the H1B visa, which uses a lottery system to determine who receives the visa — making the OPT extension particularly attractive.

Christopher Schott ’18, S.A. representative to the University Assembly, said in an interview with The Sun that the certification “can transform the careers of international students in these subjects.”

Schott expressed hope that the reclassification of economics can serve as “a rubric for other departments to look at their experience” and hopefully lead to similar changes for other majors.

The U.A. resolution points out that New York University’s communications, classical civilization, public health, urban planning, education and archeology majors are all STEM-certified, providing a possible list of likely candidates at Cornell.

Prof. Cindy Van Es, applied economics and management and director of undergraduate studies at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, told The Sun in an email that the Dyson faculty are “currently in the process of researching and reviewing the options for recertifying AEM as a STEM major,” but that no timeline has been set.

While the Department of Homeland Security determines which majors fall under the STEM CIP code, the University will submit the required documents to the New York state government, which will apply the federal administration’s criteria and determine whether a study can be classified as STEM major.

According to Schott, some proponents of reclassifying programs, including Laura Spitz, former vice provost for international affairs, voiced concerns that garnering too much attention from President Donald Trump’s administration could lead to rule changes that make it harder to classify majors as STEM. Spitz did not return requests for a comment from The Sun.

In response to these concerns, Prof. Larry Blume, chair of the economics department, said that if the government wants to change the rules, “[there is] not much we can do about it, but still no reason not to do something for our students now.”

Despite the concerns, Schott expressed optimism for reclassifying additional programs and hopes that doing so will be a positive change for international students, without having to make changes to program structures.

“We’re not gaming the system, we’re just looking at classifications that exist and whether any of our majors fit those classifications,” Schott said. “There’s no changing the rules, we’re just looking at how we fit into the rules.”

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the communication major as the communications major.