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Isman ’15: More international diversity, please

Opinions Columnist
Friday, February 7, 2014

As an international student, I can count on one hand the number of times I can go home during the year. Due to the long distance and flight, I’m not able to go home during weekends or even shorter breaks. Of course, the cost of travel fare home is well above average for students at Brown who normally take a train ride or a cross-country flight within the United States to get home.

Diversity should be dictated both by what country and what socioeconomic background a student comes from. Within each of our countries there is a great deal of diversity, but the Brown community is only privy to one kind of international student — the wealthy one.

Though the University has increased its financial support for international students in the past couple of years, changes have not been significant enough to allow for international students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to attend Brown. This issue has been on Brown’s agenda for quite some time, and though the cost of increasing financial aid for international students would be large, it would also benefit the Brown community.

Currently, international students are admitted under a need-aware admission policy, meaning “that their financial need will be a factor in the admission decision,” according to Brown’s admission website. International students with fewer financial resources and the same academic credentials as other applicants are less likely to be accepted to Brown. This policy is unfair, because their acceptance depends on something out of their control — their parents’ financial resources.

Increasing financial aid for international students would allow for a need-blind admission policy that would reward students for their academic skill rather than their financial ability. Considering that American students are evaluated under a need-blind policy, this would create a more even playing field for all Brown applicants.

International students often have to look to scholarship programs outside their universities — like the NAACP or PEO International. International students with fewer financial resources face additional stress when applying for these programs, because they have to compete with many highly academically qualified students who are equally worthy of financial aid.

But the problem extends further than Brown’s admission policy for international students. International students who do not apply for or receive aid upon their admission “are not eligible for aid in subsequent years,” according to Brown’s webpage for international student resources, meaning that if students’ financial abilities change after admission, they will not be able to receive aid. As such, international students must plan for the possibility of future financial struggle. Students whose families can no longer comfortably afford to pay for Brown are thus put in a situation in which they must choose education over economic well-being.

In recent years, Brown has increased spending on international students and has allowed for more undergraduates to receive need-based scholarships. Such increases facilitate a more diverse international population and allow those students that do make it to Brown to focus on academics without worrying so much about money. However, these changes falls short of what they could be. Though about 14 percent of undergrads are international students, less than 10 percent of those receiving financial aid are international students. In total, only about 25 percent of international students are receiving financial aid. Also, only a small minority of students at universities from around the world can study abroad at Brown regardless of their financial resources.

Brown’s international students understand that there is a great deal of diversity in each of our hometowns, but most of us don’t see this translated into the international student community at Brown. With few exceptions, international students come from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. The current financial aid and admission policies for international students ensure that Brown remains an institution for only a small segment of the vast social and economic spectrums of students from foreign nations. As long as our policies remain the same, this inequality will continue to hold true.

Sami Isman ’15 can be reached at

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  1. Samson Rolyart says:

    Samantha, that is easy for Brown. They can just ramp up admissions of cheaters (whom they have admitted for years) from those two countries. It’s as easy as pushing a button. They just need the kind of encouragement that you are giving them.

  2. But there is a fundamental question here: Why give international students, who are likely to leave the US, more financial aid when that can be given to American students?

  3. Well said Samantha!

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