Columbia’s international student population has been rapidly increasing—and so has the percentage of international students receiving no funding or financial aid from Columbia.
According to the International Students and Scholars Office’s 2010 report, about 75 percent of students last fall were receiving no funding from Columbia, compared to about 67 percent in 2004. And Columbia is bringing in over 90 percent more revenue from international students than it was in 2004.
Meanwhile, the number of international students and interns at Columbia increased from just over 4,000 in 2004 to almost 6,000 last year, when more than one-fifth of the student body was international. The majority of students continued to come from growing economies in Asia and wealthier areas like Europe—while the Middle East, Africa, and Latin America are currently underrepresented on campus.
At the undergraduate level, admission for international students is need-aware, meaning admissions officers consider students’ financial need before making an admissions decision. University President Lee Bollinger said in an interview last week that administrators are working to raise enough funds to move to need-blind admission for international students, and that Columbia has made “a lot of progress.”
“We have expanded, greatly expanded, our development operation globally,” Bollinger said. “And now we have lots and lots of people who are giving to the University from around the world, and one of the things they want to give to is financial aid for international students.”
It’s unclear why a smaller percentage of international students receive aid. One possibility is that the University is admitting wealthier international students.
In a statement last week, Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Jessica Marinaccio called the decreasing number of international students receiving Columbia funding a “very complex issue” involving both graduate and undergraduate admissions, and said her office would need more time to comment on the trend. Rebecca Hirade, associate dean for administration and planning at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said that she did not know how to explain the decrease.
Most international students enroll in graduate programs, with the majority of international students enrolled in GSAS, the School of Engineering and Applied Science, or the Business School.
Hirade said that all GSAS Ph.D. students receive “a generous funding package regardless of their citizenship status,” which includes fellowships and teaching appointments. SEAS professor and Vice Dean for Graduate Professional and Executive Programs Soulaymane Kachani said that SEAS funds Ph.D. students regardless of whether they are international.
Master’s students, though, receive very little aid from Columbia, administrators said.
Kachani speculated that the increase in master’s students at SEAS and other schools could cause a smaller percentage of all students to receive financial aid—not just a smaller percentage of international students.
“I’m wondering if what you’re seeing is not so much a change in the number of people who can pay, but a change in the mix of students [receiving different degrees],” Kachani said.
Some students, particularly from relatively wealthy nations, turn to alternate sources of aid, such as funding from their home governments, international companies, and foundations.
“I’m getting aid from a company in Korea … but it would be better if Columbia gave more financial aid, of course,” South Korean student Minjae Kwon, CC ’12, said. “But I understand that ... this is an American college, and American people should be more supported.”
Bollinger said he was unfamiliar with numbers indicating that a smaller percentage of international students are receiving Columbia funding, and a University spokesperson declined to comment further.
It’s possible that the financial aid trends are related to the countries from which students are being admitted, especially as that geographic distribution has shifted over the last few years.
Over half of the University’s international student population came from Asia in 2010, and roughly one-third of those students are Chinese. China’s rapidly developing economy is at least in part responsible for the increase in the number of Chinese students on campus, ISSO Acting Director Sarah Taylor said.
“You can see how their economy is growing, because they’re sending lots here now,” Taylor said. “China had very few students here in the past, but now their economy is growing—India’s growing, South Korea’s growing.”
Yet some regions remain underrepresented throughout the University. The Middle East and Africa are the two regions with the lowest numbers of students and scholars at Columbia. According to the ISSO’s report, “Africa (2.6% share) remains underrepresented at Columbia when compared to national data (5.4% share). The Middle East’s 3% share is approximately two points less than national numbers.”
Of students and interns from the 14 Middle Eastern countries, about half come from Israel (121 students), followed by Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Lebanon.
Columbia admissions representatives are especially focused on attracting students from the Middle East, in part because of such underrepresentation. Dean of Student Affairs Kevin Shollenberger said in a statement that admissions officers have recently traveled to high schools in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, Dubai, and Lebanon—all countries that are relatively wealthy American allies with high adult literacy rates.
“In an effort to diversify our international base, admissions actively recruited in the Middle East for the first time this past spring,” Shollenberger said.
The global center effect
Columbia has opened two global centers in underrepresented regions—the Amman, Jordan and Nairobi, Kenya centers. The centers may play significant roles in the recruitment of local students and in increasing financial aid for them, Vice President for Global Centers Ken Prewitt said.
“The more robust the centers are, the stronger their relationship is with local alumni. I think that will help find fellowship money and scholarship money and so forth,” Prewitt said.
Yet even with hypothetically higher financial aid numbers and greater outreach to communities abroad, students’ knowledge of English—as well as their academic readiness for studying at a university abroad—is another matter.
“Africa has a very large and growing population, but that doesn’t mean that a whole lot of students have finished strong secondary school or even B.A.s,” Prewitt said.
Of the 32 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, Columbia had 594 students in 2010, just over 8 percent of the University’s international population. Kachani said that SEAS is trying to recruit more students from South America, an underrepresented region, while still recruiting from traditional student bases like China, India, South Korea, and some European countries.
“We are not lowering our effort when it comes to those countries, but we are also trying to increase our efforts elsewhere,” Kachani said.
A lack of employment opportunities may contribute to a lack of students from Latin America and other underrepresented areas as well.
“International students are allowed just a small amount of hours to work, and they are not allowed to work outside campus,” Brazilian student Michelle Mocarski, GS, said.
The ISSO will release its list of trends for the 2011-2012 year in the spring. Taylor said the ISSO’s yearly report is mostly intended for outside audiences, including newspapers examining changes in the number of international students at universities. When asked if Columbia’s admissions or financial aid offices use the report, she said the answer was no.
“I think they usually get their own data anyway,” she said. “So they wouldn’t necessarily want to use ours.”
Sammy Roth contributed reporting.