Internationals call for need-blind admissions

April 10, 2013, 11:46 p.m.

Even as gaining admission to Stanford becomes increasingly challenging, with an admit rate this year of 5.7 percent, international students in need of financial aid continue to face another obstacle to matriculating because — unlike peer institutions such Harvard, Yale and Princeton — Stanford lacks need-blind financial aid for internationals.

The Office of Financial Aid manages a portfolio of scholarships and grants worth over $140 million, offering an average financial aid package — for the slight majority of undergraduates who qualify — of $42,354, from total charges of $54,508 for the 2012-13 academic year.

While admission to Stanford for American students is need-blind, no similar program exists for international students, who currently constitute — at just under 10 percent — a smaller portion of the undergraduate population than at institutions like Harvard. While some internationals do receive financial aid, their admissions decisions take anticipated financial aid into consideration.

Karen Cooper, director of Financial Aid, emphasized that the topic continues to be an important issue for the University’s President and Board of Trustees but said that she was unaware of any plans to introduce or pilot need-blind admission for internationals, in part due to the expensive nature of such an initiative.

“The Financial Aid Office has been increasing the number of international students admitted with eligibility for aid based on the funds available each year, which have been growing steadily thanks to the generosity of our alumni,” she said.

Financial aid programs are currently predominantly supported by the University endowment, which supplies 60 to 65 percent of funds used. However, even as the endowment enjoys unprecedented growth, most donations are earmarked.

“While fundraising overall raised over one billion dollars [this past year], most of it was in the form of gifts with very specific purposes in mind,” she said.

To supplement endowment funds, Cooper said the Financial Aid Office also draws money from sources like The Stanford Fund and Presidential Fund. Stanford also participates in third-party scholarship programs, like The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, which allows for Stanford to admit 20 students from sub-Saharan Africa with full funding. The program will effectively allow for funding for five students per year for the next four classes.

“President [John] Hennessy, in one of his addresses a few years ago, said that [need-blind admission for international students] would be [one of] his main goals,” Cooper said, referencing a 2005 report in which Hennessy recommended “that we set a longer-term goal to move toward need-blind admissions for international students.”

“I’d just say that there has been discussion about being need-blind for internationals for many years, as this [aforementioned] document from 2005 can attest,” Cooper said.

Shahab Fadavi ’15, an international student, served on the ASSU Senate this past year, devoting much of his campaign platform and time in office to the issue.

“Need-blind admission for international students was an issue I emphasized in my campaign for Senate and was an issue I pursued seriously when I was a senator,” Fadavi said.

According to Fadavi, plans for giving international students need-blind admission and accompanying financial aid had been laid out before the 2008 economic crisis but were set aside in the subsequent period of forced austerity.

“It was a difficult time financially for the University then, and I understand why the issue was set aside for the time being then,” he said.

Ian Chan ’14, an international student from Hong Kong, said that the inclusion of financial circumstances in international admissions decisions deterred him from applying for aid.

“I do have many friends who I went to school with in Hong Kong who didn’t apply to Stanford but applied to peer institutions on the East Coast which did have need-blind international financial aid,” Chan said. “I feel that this hampers our ability to attract the best and the brightest from the outside world. It is troublesome that our international students do not come from as diverse a socioeconomic group as they can.”

Fadavi echoed Chan’s sentiment that bright students are being discouraged from applying to Stanford and expressed optimism that improving University finances might allow the issue to be revisited.

“Stanford is doing extremely well financially,” Fadavi observed. “We raised $1.2 billion this year…Our endowment is booming. Now that the University is doing so well financially, I foresee financial aid for internationals [sic] being instated very soon.”

Nitish Kulkarni '16 is a senior majoring in Mechanical Engineering. He writes about technology and breaking news, and runs online content sections. Email him at nitishk2 'at'

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