Back in 2013, President Christina Paxson P’19 outlined need-blind admission for all undergraduate students as one of her goals in the University’s strategic plan. Five years have passed since then, and both domestic transfer applicants and international students are still excluded from this promise. As stated by Patrick Wu ’19 in his Oct. 1 Herald op-ed, President Emerita Ruth Simmons referred to the implementation of need-blind financial aid for all students as a moral obligation. Yet the University has so far failed to extend this moral responsibility to international students. As an international student myself and as someone who has advocated on behalf of the international community in my time here, I consider this an issue that is particularly relevant. If the University is serious about its commitment to ensuring need-blind admission for all students, including international students, it is time to release a public timeline for when the international student community can expect to see these reforms.
The University’s mission statement of serving “the world” requires the implementation of need-blind admission policies for international students, that is, those who are not American citizens. Peer schools like Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Amherst College already implement need-blind international admission and commit to meeting 100 percent of every applicant’s demonstrated need. It must be said that Brown does meet 100 percent of demonstrated financial need for all applicants, which is a commendable step. But current admission practices privilege a small portion of applicants, undermining Brown’s commitment to increasing diversity and inclusion on campus. Since admission is currently need-aware for international students, the policies in place favor the wealthy and discourage middle- and low-income students from seeking University support to fund their education. For the most part, wealthy international students attend international or American private high schools, which — like Brown — can also be prohibitively expensive for middle- and low-income students. This near-homogeneity in schooling and socioeconomic class limits Brown’s ability to deliver on its promise of fostering a truly diverse international student body. If we take a moment to imagine what an international student body admitted through need-blind policies might look like, it becomes clear that there are perspectives that are currently missing on our campus. For instance, need-blind policies might increase the number and diversity of students from underrepresented geographic regions such as Latin America and Africa.
That isn’t to say that Brown is solely populated with wealthy international students — the University has made strides in the expansion of financial aid available to international students in recent years. But admission policy can still adversely affect students’ time at Brown. Admitted international students also have their college experiences jeopardized by Brown’s need-aware policy, as those who did not apply for financial aid originally cannot be granted aid at any other point in their Brown undergraduate education. That leads to significant financial insecurity for those students. Eventual changes in circumstances, such as unexpected unemployment in students’ families or economic crises that impact their home countries, may compromise their ability to afford Brown. At the very least, if need-blind admission for international students is currently a distant dream, the University should work to allow admitted international students to receive financial assistance from the University if needed.
When Paxson was approved to a second term in 2017, she did not commit to guaranteeing need-blind admission for international students in the following five years, citing financial constraints, The Herald previously reported. Implementing need-blind admission for international students will indeed be a hefty financial task, but in many ways the University is in a good position to act now. Brown is currently in the midst of a historic $3 billion fundraising campaign known as BrownTogether, which surpassed its halfway point last January. Among other initiatives, the campaign fundraises for key Presidential initiatives like the diversity and inclusion action plans and Brown Promise, the University’s commitment to eliminating loans from undergraduate financial aid packages. A public timeline and an awareness campaign on the scale of the aforementioned initiatives that targets international alums keen to give back to their home countries would help drive fundraising efforts for need-blind international admission, which technically also falls under the campaign’s purview. According to the President’s Financial Report for FY17, “$27 million (has been) raised for undergraduate financial aid to meet increased need throughout the student population (and) Brown’s financial aid budget climbed to more than $120 million for the 2016-17 academic year. This amount encompasses aid for approximately 43 percent of undergraduates, including more than 180 international students.” Think of the impact a public and specific commitment from the University could have on these numbers and the futures of incoming international students.
The University has already taken a moral position on this issue. What it needs now is a plan to execute its vision.
José Soria ’19 is on the International Student Advisory Board and can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and op-eds to email@example.com.