Higher Education Widens Global Inequality
Dartmouth College freshman, guest blogger
American colleges and universities are becoming increasingly more like multi-national corporations. Their products? Students trained to further market growth through wide ranges of advanced skills— a prospect that may seem positive to the economically savvy. Universities teach students to improve the world, making a dime while at it. High school microeconomics, however, teaches us that sometimes efficiency and production do not equate with another important factor: equity.
As American colleges focus more on profit, they invest less on shrinking the international equality gap. Consequently, they diminish economically diverse international participation in their universities. Colleges either need to expand their need-blind financial aid to international students or improve multinational schools to better cater to poorer populations. Many are doing neither.
It starts with the admission process. According to US News and World Report, 62 American institutions offered need-blind admission to domestic students in 2014. This may seem low, but comparatively only five schools—Harvard, Amherst College, Yale University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Princeton University—offered the same benefit to international students, who also lack American governmental aid. In fact, although the number of international students "enrolled in US institutions has increased by 23%", their college admission rates are still lower than those for domestic students. The 2012 international student acceptance rate at MIT, for example, is only 3 percent, which makes even the domestic student's low 10.8% acceptance rate seem large.
These discrepancies between foreign and domestic aid allow universities to select wealthy students rather than more qualified applicants who may not be able to afford full tuition. And U.S. institutions make a fortune off of other countries' wealthy students. In 2014-2015 alone, international student tuition generated approximately twenty-seven billion dollars. To put this in perspective, only four percent of total university students in the United States are international, and the money collected greatly exceeds the GDP of countries like Afghanistan and is over four times the company General Mills's annual income. This wealth may not be initially apparent, but it can be felt by the students on these campuses.
And the problem continues to grow. Earlier this school year, Dartmouth College abandoned its own international need-blind policy. Despite having an endowment exceeding $600,000 per student, almost ten times the cost of attendance, it became "need-aware" to "increase and stabilize the population of international students on campus." Prajeet Bajpai, an international Dartmouth student, cited that many students he knows "wouldn't be [there] if not for the need-blind policy." Another student agreed that the "shift will definitely make Dartmouth's community more exclusive." Above all, few see this switch as inherently positive. Even if more students are selected from the international pool, key aspects of campus diversity will be lost nonetheless.
There are exceptions. As mentioned earlier, Yale offers all students need-blind admission, no matter where they come from. Seem too good to be true? It is.
To apply to an American institution, nearly all American schools demand that international students display English proficiency by taking the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL). Its format is similar to the reading section of the ACT and primarily includes reading comprehension questions about passages and also requires an essay.
This test is a limiting factor for many potential applicants. English is not universal, even if it is the most-taught second language worldwide. For example, many students living far from major cities or attending lower quality public schools lack access to English language education. Between the books and other supplies, the training isn't cheap, and it can be difficult to find teachers for rural and low-income populations.
Since 2001, the Chinese government has required that all students learn English following third grade. This has not been a problem for urban areas, where English instruction often begins in the first grade. Still, the goal has been impossible for some rural regions to achieve.
Alternatively, 94 foreign cities accounted for more than half of all students on F-1 Visas between 2008 and 2012, including Seoul, Beijing, Shanghai, Hydrabad, and Ryadh. With more than 524,000 students using F-1 visas in the United States in 2012, this means that over 262,000 students stem from foreign cities. More students are coming to the US than ever before, but they mostly from urbanized, wealthy regions. They are not representative of the general population.
Given these facts, I do not propose that we suddenly allow non-English speakers into our programs and begin teaching in many languages. Instead, institutions should focus more of their efforts on sister schools abroad. Already, schools like Cornell University and George Washington University have established branches in cities like Abu Dhabi and Singapore. Harvard started this practice twenty years ago. Although critics have targeted sister schools in the past for their high prices and involvement in police states, growing economies allow more opportunities for improvement than ever before. Schools now have endowments large enough to fund more financial aid for any student. Harvard, for example, could waive tuition for all students and only experience a small decrease in its yearly income from its huge endowment. If institutions employ some of this money abroad, they could easily make these institutions more sustainable and educate a more diverse academic population concurrently.
While limiting financial aid and requiring English proficiency allows colleges more freedom of choice and may lead to a more diverse cultural make-up of schools, it diminishes its economic diversity. It helps those who are already ahead economically in their own countries climb the socioeconomic ladder, but leaves the disadvantaged behind and widens the gap between the two groups. The 975,000 international students studying in the U.S. are primarily the sons and daughters of executives, politicians, and lawyers--not farmers or factory workers. They are economic boons to the college, but they are not a representative group of the world population. We train the elite to maintain their positions but fail to give poorer populations opportunities for mobility.
By giving the economic elite the bulk of opportunities in international education, we likewise give them experience with different cultures and the skills required to thrive on the global stage. Eight of the ten best universities in the world are in the United States, and many worldwide companies employ directly from these institutions, making acceptance into these institutions relevant twenty years in the future as much as right now. Incongruously, those who attend less prestigious or wealthy schools as young children cannot close the gap separating them from the elite.