When I recommended Northwestern to Pedro, my Argentinean friend, the first thing he asked was: What are the chances of getting financial aid? Will they accept me even if I can’t afford tuition?
Unfortunately, only “12-20 international students can enroll each year, with Northwestern financial aid depending on their family’s financial need” due to budget constraints, said Aaron Zdawczyk, Senior Assistant Director of Admission and Financial Aid in an e-mail. At this pace, the 2078 members of Northwestern’s Class of 2012, which has 140 international students, will have very little chance to meet someone like Pedro: talented, clever, with the international focus that Northwestern needs so much, but without an affluent family willing to pay for the opportunity.
Morton Schapiro has said his favorite question to ask students is what disappoints them most about Northwestern. Well, Mr. President, as an international student, I am disappointed that Northwestern does not have enough of us. Many of the East Coast schools that we love to compare ourselves to have a student body that’s up to 17 percent international, like at Columbia University, compared to Northwestern’s current 6.7 percent. It’s not that Northwestern doesn’t attract international students–the school was Pedro’s first choice–rather, the university isn’t giving them the means to come here.
Do we even need people like Pedro at Northwestern? Why should international and socio-economic diversity be an issue? Some question the worth of understanding the outside world, if the point of academics is studying to apply theory after graduation. Others take for granted the fact that everyone should care about engaging, helping and caring for others, whether or not the problems affect them directly.
Emily Eisenhart, a Weinberg senior and Global Engagement Summit co-director, traveled to various parts of the world, including Tibet, before coming to Northwestern to study anthropology. Rocio Reyes, one of the organizers of the ROTARACT Club’s spring break trip to Guatemala, lived in Belgium and Mexico before joining us in Evanston. These people spark international compassion in their peers because they have lived experiences that touched their own hearts. However, you don’t have to live in another country to meet people that deal with health, poverty, cultural and religious issues in their everyday lives.
Instead, meet your fellow students who can make these issues personal–it’s one way to bring global issues closer to home. Once you befriend a Bolivian who lived in drought while multinationals sold the water at outrageous prices, it’s easier to start caring about poverty and inequality and doing something about it.
So what will Northwestern do to encourage these relationships? Schapiro, a leading expert in the economics of higher education, seems to have the answer. He said that during his term he wants to focus on “access and affordability.” Translated, Northwestern must reach out for students from diverse backgrounds (access), and eventually grant them the possibility of studying here (affordability) in order to increase the number of international students.
Furthermore, Schapiro seems to value a diverse student body. “I think you’re not doing your job in educating any of your students unless you’re educating them in an environment that’s reflective of the world they’re about to enter,” he said.
Our goal should not just be to simply increase the proportional amount of international students. We should aim for equality as well. The same financial aid that is offered to domestic students should be offered to international students to ensure that each class is qualified and diverse — and not just filled with the rich kids. Northwestern should place the same amount of care in attracting the best international students, regardless of financial standing, just as it does for domestic students. Otherwise, we are undermining the value of diversity that we claim to embrace.
Thanks to Schapiro, Williams College is one of the seven elite private universities that can afford financial need-blind admission to international students, joining Dartmouth, MIT, Harvard, Princeton, Yale and Middlebury. Based on this, it’s clear that Schapiro values internationalization of the student body very highly, including financial need-blind admission for internationals.
However, creating a need-blind admission program for international students is a very ambitious goal, one that, according to Provost Dan Linzer, “must be tempered right now by the fiscal realities.” The bad news is that it is very unlikely that this will happen any time soon.
The good news, though, is that Zdawczyk doesn’t think a need-blind aid program for internationals is the only solution. “What little we have is better than many other universities in this country (over one million dollars over the four classes), but more money would allow us to admit a higher percentage of those that need it.”
He also emphasized that the solution is more than financial. We need more “programming to international students on campus and as alumni,” much like the international student orientation that took place for the first time this year.
If we really want to strive as “global and civic engagers,” Schapiro’s incoming administration needs to appropriate more aid money for international students who will help us learn to genuinely care about the world beyond Sheridan road. Having a vibrant and diverse international student body would change the face of Northwestern. It would make the school more exciting and appealing to both domestic and international applicants, as well as current students and alumni. Diversity brings with it more interesting discussions, students groups, classes and experiences. And whether you’re American or Argentinian, who wouldn’t want that?