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Rice International Student Association members left frustrated after meeting with administration over financial aid exclusion


Stock photo of Rice Student Association meeting. Photo credit: Sirui Zhou

By Andrew Grottkau     10/17/18 12:15am

Representatives of the Rice International Student Association said they are disappointed after meeting with administrators on Thursday to discuss the exclusion of international students from The Rice Investment, according to a statement on RISA’s Facebook page. 

Dean  of  Undergraduates  Bridget Gorman and Vice President of Enrollment Yvonne Romero da Silva, the two administrators in attendance, failed to divulge future plans to increase international student financial aid, according to RISA executive team member Kiara Reyes.

“We were really frustrated with the fact that they couldn’t provide clear goals or a timeline or specifics,” Reyes, a Will Rice College senior, said. “Not even whether they were pursuing anything at all.” 

In an email to the Thresher, Gorman said she felt she conveyed Rice’s commitment to international students during the meeting.

“Rice has substantially increased the size of the international student body,” Gorman said. “We’ve also supported them with more funding in recent years. And we plan to enhance that with even more fundraising efforts in the future.”

According to RISA president Chenlin Huang, the group had initially hoped to meet with Gorman, Vice President for Finance Kathy Collins and President David Leebron. However, Leebron was in China and Collins could not attend, according to Huang. In the meeting, Huang said Gorman and Romero da Silva told RISA members they did not work closely with international student financial aid, so they could offer few specifics. 

Reyes said Gorman and Romero da Silva told RISA members that international students could not be included in The Rice Investment, which will be funded by state and federal grants in addition to the Rice endowment, for a variety of reasons. 

“One [reason international students weren’t included] is that we aren’t eligible for state or federal grants, so we’re only eligible for endowment,” Reyes said. “Another is it’s very tricky for [Rice] to know our income. Not every country has an IRS, a taxable income.”

RISA executive committee member Wangden Sherpa said Gorman and Romero da Silva failed to show a commitment to undertaking any initiatives in the future and did not promise to bring up the students’ concerns to other administrators. 

Rice’s current international student admissions policy is need-aware, meaning admissions officers view an applicant’s financial need before admitting or denying them, according to Romero da Silva. Any international student who does not apply for financial aid on their application may not apply for aid at any point during their undergraduate career at Rice.

“International students applying with ‘no aid’ — and indeed many admitted with aid — would not be from middle or lower income families in their home countries,” Romero da Silva said. “It’s not appropriate to extend the income categories and benefits under The Rice Investment to foreign students from very different economic environments.”

Romero da Silva said in an email to the Thresher that allowing international students to apply for aid after admission under a need-aware admissions process would be unfair to other applicants. 

“Even under the present system, some foreign national students tell us they apply under the ‘no financial aid’ policy even though they know they can’t afford the full cost of attendance,” Romero da Silva said. “Allowing them to change their status after they arrive here would encourage further misrepresentation and be unfair to other applicants who offer a correct assessment of their finances.”

Under the current system, in the case of an extenuating circumstance such as the death of a family member, international students may apply for emergency funding from either the Office of International Student Services or the Dean of Undergraduates. This funding is often insufficient because the maximum the OISS can offer is $500, according to Huang. 

“If it’s a kind of situation where someone in your family fell sick or you suddenly lost one of your incomes, $500 is not going to solve anything especially when college is a four-year commitment,” Huang, a Lovett College junior, said. 

According to Huang, RISA presented Gorman and Romero da Silva with two demands moving forward: For Rice to show that it is making efforts to increase international student accessibility and to allow international students to apply for aid even after admissions. Additionally, RISA offered to be part of any working groups or fundraising campaigns for raising financial aid for international students. 

Reyes said RISA requested to meet twice a semester to continue the conversation, but the administration told them they could not make that promise. Romero da Silva, however, said no specific date was requested for future meetings. 

Huang said RISA is working with the Student Association on legislation to explore increasing aid for international students. 

Ultimately, RISA executive team member Andrew Keat said the team was frustrated that Gorman and Romero da Silva could not give a clear reason why international students were not included in the plan.

“I would’ve been happier if they said, ‘When we were thinking about the investment plan, we looked at international students but it really wasn’t feasible because of [a few reasons],’” Keat, a Sid Richardson College senior, said. “But it wasn’t like that. We kind of got the sense that they didn’t think about us.”

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