For many around the globe, studying in the United States is, and always has been, a dream. However, as costs continue to rise day by day amid a backdrop of global economic uncertainty, many international students are finding this dream farther out of reach.
Eight years ago, an Egyptian family devised a plan to send their eldest son, Ahmed Metwally, to study in the U.S. The first stage of their plan: Enroll Ahmed in an expensive American school in West Cairo rather than a public school to burnish his academic résumé. The plan also included making deposits to a bank account to cover tuition and living expenses for at least the first year of his studies abroad.
“The cost of living and tuition in the U.S. is continually rising,” a Turkish student studying economics and business administration at the University of San Diego, California, said. “This puts significant financial and psychological stress on our families, as we are uncertain if we will be able to continue our studies given persistent inflation.”
“As international students, we’re not able to obtain many scholarships,” Sobhi Kazmouz, a Syrian medical student at the University of Illinois, said. “Often we must pay double, and in some cases more than double, the tuition fees that American students pay.”
International students are also often unable to obtain loans unless they can find a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident willing to co-sign.
Beyond tuition, rising rent costs place additional pressure on international students. Most universities make housing accessible to international students at the start of the semester. However, many encounter delays in obtaining student visas and the allotted housing is gone by the time they arrive, which in some cases is past the start of the school year. Many students must then find local housing, often at exorbitant rates.
Sakshi Dureja, a fellow international student and classmate of Kazmouz’s at the University of Illinois, believes that soaring costs have even made it difficult for international students already in the U.S. to continue their studies.
“Students who were able to enroll in institutions here a few years ago are now uncertain if they will be able to complete their studies,” Dureja said. “Unfortunately, there is a lack of assistance and infrastructure in place to secure the money needed to complete their studies.”
After their first year, they may be allowed to work off-campus under special circumstances, including financial hardship. However, the supplemental money earned through this work seldom bridges the students’ financial shortfalls.
“The financial return is insufficient,” Atithi Patel, a fellow international student at the University of Illinois, admitted. “What’s more, particularly in the early years, you need to focus a great deal on your studies and navigate the challenges of adapting to a new culture. Piling work on top of that becomes a burden, and the small earnings often barely make a difference.”
Despite the considerable barriers facing overseas students in the U.S., a number of organizations are devoted to providing much needed financial assistance outside of financial aid, grant, and loan channels.
“The U.S. is the most diverse international education environment in the world and our community is committed to supporting the international educational exchanges that will shape our global societies for decades to come,” explained A. Sarah Ilchman, co-president of IIE.
Founded in 1919, IIE administers programs in 180 countries that touch the lives of 29,000 individuals through partnerships with higher education institutions, governments, donors, and, of course, students.
And some academic institutions are able to provide financial support in addition to psychological support, including Augustana College, a private institution in Rock Island, Illinois. At Augustana, international students currently account for 15 percent of the 2,400-student population. The university makes merit-based scholarships and financial aid available to outstanding international students.
“International students deserve scholarships and need solid financial aid,” said W. Kent Barnds, executive vice president of external relations at Augustana. “I feel that higher education is America’s greatest export, and that international diversity is critical in the classroom. Its significance lies not only in bringing our educational system to the globe, but also in exposing our local students to global ideas.”
It’s not only international students who are facing economic challenges as they seek to study in the U.S. American institutions of higher education themselves are facing a cash crunch, constraining their opportunities to assist overseas students.
“Academic institutions are suffering as a result of current economic conditions and have ongoing dilemmas in determining tuition fees, providing financial aid and scholarships, recruiting qualified personnel, and covering budget shortfalls,” said David Woodward, Senior Advisor for Global Engagement at Seattle University.
Despite these formidable challenges, Woodward believes colleges and universities must develop innovative strategies to attract and assist more international students.
“What we need more than anything else are talented students,” he said. “Everyone in the world is competing for that talent, so we have to make it much more affordable and attractive for those students to come to our country. We have to make this dream possible for the best and the brightest, no matter where in the world they’re coming from.”