International students: Cash cow. Full pay. Need blind?
Dartmouth College recently announced
that it would extend its need-blind admissions policy to international students and meet 100 percent of demonstrated need regardless of citizenship.
In doing so, it joined a small club of American colleges. Dartmouth officials say the college is one of just six institutions that both offer need-blind admissions and cover full need for international students.
Lee Coffin, Dartmouth’s vice provost for enrollment and dean of admissions and financial aid, told me the new initiative was a matter of equity and access. The costliness of an American degree puts an education here out of reach for many around the globe.
“It was clear that there was talent in parts of the world that couldn’t come to the U.S. without aid,” he said. “We saw this as a really important opportunity to stake out a leadership position on the issue of global access.”
In recent years, the value of international students has often been framed as a matter of dollars and cents.
Foreign-student advocates use the annual release of economic-impact figures by NAFSA: Association of International Educators to help make the case to policymakers, the public, and even members of their own campus communities. Studies have shown that the presence of international students, particularly full-fee undergraduates and master’s students, did bail out
many institutions after the Great Recession.
There has been pushback to this narrative. As Santiago Castiello-Gutiérrez and Xiaojie Li of the University of Arizona write
, the prizing of international students’ importance to the bottom line risks “dehumanizing” them. And as colleges take more seriously diversity and inclusion on campus, should that commitment only extend to American citizens?
But a greater focus on access in international admissions by some colleges could also have the perverse effect of exacerbating inequities — those between institutions. Dartmouth, which has seen a 70 percent increase in international enrollments over the past five years, was able to put in place a universal need-blind policy thanks to a $40 million anonymous donation, the largest scholarship gift in college history.
Even under its previous “need-aware” policy for international applicants, 63 percent of foreign citizens in Dartmouth’s most recent entering class received financial aid, according to Coffin.
Other colleges may lack the deep-pocketed benefactors or the institutional resources to put in place a similar policy. Indeed, as higher education struggles to rebound from the economic hit of Covid-19 — as well as with longstanding financial and demographic challenges — some institutions could find themselves more, not less, dependent on those international students able to afford to pay their own way.
Indeed, Dartmouth had been forced to end a previous need-blind policy
for international applicants, in place for the classes of 2012 to 2019, because it was not “sustainable,” Coffin said.
It’s a trend to watch: Will more colleges follow in Dartmouth’s footsteps, opening the door to more, and more diverse, students from overseas? And in doing so, will other colleges, those without the resources to widen access, find themselves at a disadvantage in competing for global talent?