By Jai-Ryung Lee, Contributor
In the past few years, the average number of degree-seeking matriculated international students reached 30 students per class. This past year, Furman welcomed only 11 international students, approximately a third of previous classes, while the overall incoming freshman class remained high. According to Mike Hendricks, there is an explanation for this. As quoted in the previous issue of the Paladin Newspaper, “Where we fell short this year was in yield. What that came from… [was that] we didn’t really communicate well with the prospective students and that’s what got us in the bind…”
However, “communication” was never the main issue. The number of international students who applied were similar to that of years past. Approximately 100 international students applied to Furman and were also accepted in similar numbers, yet only 11 enrolled. How was “communication” not a factor in getting international students to apply and get accepted, but somehow failed to getting the students to commit to and enroll at Furman? What went wrong between acceptance and enrollment?
The truth of the matter is, the low number of international freshmen cannot be attributed to something as intangible as failure to communicate. It is due to the systematic changes to scholarship allocations that took place last year. In February, an email was sent out to all international students regarding a change to international student aid. Students were notified that all merit and need-based institutional aid was going to be merged into merit-only scholarships. Hendricks confirmed this in his interview, previously quoted in The Paladin: “So there were full ride-scholarships that were available to international students and they had specific names. We got away from specific names for them, because again we didn’t want to isolate just internationals. So they’re available for the same stuff that domestic students are… [the scholarships] are just renamed.”
In a town hall-style meeting for the international student body on Sept. 7, Hendricks stated that this was done so that international students could have access to the same pool of scholarships available to domestic students. However, the truth is that by merging need-based and merit scholarships, reallocating international scholarship funds with all other scholarship funds, and “renaming” scholarships, incoming international students received significantly fewer scholarships than they did in years past. Even Hendricks acknowledged during the international student town hall that the only group of the student body affected by this change in scholarship allocation was international students.
There are a host of issues with making international students compete with domestic students for the same scholarship. International students work in much different curriculums than most domestic students, meaning that “merit” for students in different countries cannot be compared to “merit” in American-curriculum schools. Additionally, domestic students can rely on scholarship aid outside of the University, in the form of FAFSA and Pell Grants, while these funding sources are unavailable to non-US citizens. International students also have to deal with an increased cost of attending university abroad including currency exchange, visa fees, international flights and new cell phone plans, just to name a few. The recent changes to the scholarships have only hurt the international student body, as evidenced by the painfully small number of international students in the Class of 2020.
Why is Furman not willing to financially support its international students? Are international students not welcome unless they can pay the $63,584 cost of attendance (plus more with visa fees, international flights, and other costs associated with creating a new life in a new country)?
I believe Furman is committed to diversity and that this blunder was in no way intentional. But in order to move forward, these systematic changes to scholarship allocation must be addressed for this next recruitment season. We have to recognize that the reason international students did not commit to Furman was not due to abstract reasons like communication or leadership changes — there was an undeniable cause and effect between systematic scholarship changes and our low international matriculation rate. The university has to be willing to recognize the connection and follow that recognition with financial support for its international students just as much as its domestic students.
This issue, and Furman’s lack of progress towards diversity, should come as a personal offense to not just international students, but to all Furman students, faculty and staff. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education released a report ranking student diversity in colleges by state. Furman ranks 5th to last out of 80 higher institutions, with a percentage of total minority students at 13.5 percent. From that report, all Furman can say is that we are doing better than Bob Jones University. If a university, and a liberal arts university at that, is not providing its students different ideas, thoughts and cultures, I dare question the $63,584 price tag on a Furman education.
On Oct. 5, the university will unveil its new Strategic Vision, dubbed the “Furman Advantage.” I truly hope the university will weave components of diversity into the “Furman Advantage.” It is the responsibility of the university to deliver the advantage of diversity to its students, faculty and staff. After all, the Furman that I know has the capability to deliver the advantage of diverse people, thoughts and cultures that everyone at Furman deserves.