Monetary border wall for internationals

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Faculty Senate to discuss high tuition rates for those out of state.

By Sergio Medina

smedina104@student.alamo.edu

Environmental science freshman Caterina Beverati is from Italy. She has lived in this country for three months to enroll at this college.

She wanted a practical approach to education, to apply knowledge with practice and research, something she did not find much of back home, where education was more about theory and studying than applying oneself, she said.

Beverati

Liberal arts sophomore Mario Lopez came from Mexico with the desire to search for a better life.

“Mexico is not really good right now,” he said.

Rising violence, corruption and poverty are big issues in his home country.

One day, he wants to earn enough money to support his parents.

Then there is computer programming sophomore Okhai Omotuebe.

He has lived in the U.S. for two years and three months and is the vice president of Phi Theta Kappa at this college, an international honor society for two-year colleges that only takes in students with a GPA of 3.5 or higher.

“I was in pursuit of a better education and I just wanted to change environment, to see other people’s culture,” he said.

For him, the transition from his home country of Nigeria was difficult.

“I left all my friends back home,” Omotuebe said.

“I didn’t have any friends here, and I couldn’t communicate very well with people,” he said.

After a couple of months of isolation, he began to socialize and join clubs and make new friends, he said.

The trio, interviewed Oct. 25, agreed tuition was an obstacle when enrolling at this college.

“I do think it’s way, way, way too high,” Lopez said.

Tom Cox, chair of languages, which includes ESL, and member of the Faculty Senate at this college, said Oct. 24 he is aware of the matter.

“I just know that international tuition is really high, and in fact, we’re the highest of all of the community colleges in Texas, and our international student enrollment is really low,” Cox said.

“I would like to see us switch those two numbers,” he said.

Cox said there are 127 international students enrolled at this college.

For in-district students, tuition is $86 per credit hour, or $258 for a three-hour course. That means a full-time student taking four three-hour courses would pay $1,032 plus fees.

Out-of-district tuition for Texas residents is $202 per credit hour.

In contrast, for international students, one credit hour costs $453, which means a three-hour course costs $1,359, more than what an in-district student pays for full-time tuition.

So international tuition for a full-time semester made up of four three-hour courses costs $5,436, more than five times in-district tuition.

In spring, tuition is to be raised by $13 per credit hour for all tuition rates.

International students do not have the choice of enrolling under part-time tuition. They must be enrolled full-time at their respective academic institutions to satisfy criteria under student visas F-1 and M-1, which are necessary for these students to study in the U.S., as stated on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

The F-1 student visa is granted to academic students enrolled full-time at accredited colleges, universities, seminaries, conservatories, high schools, elementary schools or other academic institutions and language training programs.

The M-1 student visa is granted to vocational students who are in nonacademic programs, other than language training.

Moreover, during their first year of enrollment, international students cannot alleviate their expenditures through labor because, under criteria for student visas, students cannot work outside their institutions, the immigration website states.

Positions on campus are the only options available to them.

Lopez said, “Being an international student is really hard because first: it’s (F-1 visa) a nonimmigrant visa, so you cannot apply for residency. Then, finding work is really tough; you cannot do internships; you cannot work outside. There’s a lot of limitations.”

As such, the 2017 Open Doors Report on International Student Exchange, provided by the Center for Academic Mobility, Research and Impact under the Institute of International Education, shows that 82 percent of undergraduate international students in the country have to rely on personal and family support.

For students whose money comes from their countries of origin, exchange rates can add to the problem.

Omotuebe

Omotuebe, for example, said the rates make a big difference.

In 2018, a U.S. dollar is equal to 361.69 naira, Nigeria’s currency. For comparison, in 2016, the year Omotuebe left his country, the ratio was $1 U.S. to 169.50 naira.

“So it’s almost double what I had to pay,” he said.

Similarly, the Mexican peso, which converted $1 U.S. to $13.95 pesos in 2011, the year Lopez left Mexico, now sits at $1 U.S. to $19.41 pesos.

Beverati said, “I mean, it’s crazy because your family is not here so you can’t say ‘Oh, I can live with my family and not pay rent.’ I’m on my own. All my family is in Italy.”

She said she must be cautious when she manages her expenses such as grocery shopping. She added that she wishes to move next year as she resides in Tobin Lofts, which she said is “not very good” because of security concerns and drug usage.

As an example, Beverati received an email Oct. 23 from Tobin Lofts management notifying residents about a report made to the Alamo Colleges Police Department about shots fired in the facility.

“ACPD has responded to the report and confirmed that this was an isolated incident, and no one was harmed,” the email read.

However, Beverati is unsure she will be able to move because of financial limitations.

“Sometimes, I just stay there and eat beans and rice every day,” Beverati said, smiling. “I mean, it’s not nice.”

Lopez

Despite difficulties, international students contribute large sums of money to this country. In 2016, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported international students contributed a total of $39.4 billion to the U.S. economy.

Lopez said international students must academically apply themselves to make their presence in this country worthwhile.

“What I’ve noticed is that international students actually have, almost all of them, have really good grades; they have to maintain them,” he said.

Lopez then pointed to Omotuebe’s membership in Phi Theta Kappa.

“When you apply to UTSA, you get like $2,500, automatically, every year,” he said.

UTSA’s scholarship website at https://future.utsa.edu/scholarships/, lists the scholarship.

Lopez also is a member of PTK and serves as the chapter’s treasurer and the treasurer for this college’s Student Government Association.

“Even though we’re involved in all of these organizations and honors and all that stuff, it’s not even for sure if we’re going to stay here after, you know, studying here,” Lopez said. “You’re losing like a lot of talent, to be honest.”

The Open Doors report shows that, out of the 40 associate-level institutions in the country with the most international students, five are found in Texas, and the Alamo Colleges is not one of them.

One of those five is Houston Community College, with the highest number of international students among associate-level institutions not only in Texas but in the country, at 5,982.

The other four are Lone Star College in The Woodlands, Richland College in Dallas, Collin County Community College in McKinney and North Lake College in Irving.

“We’re pricing ourselves out of the market,” Cox said.

With 85,116, Texas ranks third in the highest number of foreign students in the country. California and New York rank first and second with 156,879 and 118,424, respectively.

As of 2017, however, international student enrollment decreased.

The 2017 Hot Topics Survey, conducted by the Institute of International Education, shows that 45 percent of 522 surveyed higher education institutions reported an average decrease of 6.9 percent in enrollment that year.

The top five reasons respondents gave for the downturn were: delays and denials for student visa application, cost of tuition, social and political environment, enrolling in other institutions outside the U.S. and feeling unwelcome in the U.S.

Cox said there must be some ways to alleviate some of those concerns.

“As educational institutions, we aren’t really in a position to change federal policy in terms of that, but we certainly can do things to be more welcoming,” Cox said. “And I think lowering international student tuition is one of them.”

The Open Doors report can be found at www.iie.org/en/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors.

When asked how they would feel were international tuition to be lowered, Beverati, Lopez and Omotuebe laughed in unison.

“We would all be super happy,” Lopez said. “Especially because that means my dad is a little bit more relieved because, I mean, at the end of the day, he’s like the backbone of my family.”

Poudel

Beverati said she would stress less about asking her family for money, and she would feel more liberated, with a desire to register for more classes.

Computer science sophomore Suman Raman Poudel said lower international tuition would also help with textbook purchases.

“If they lower the tuition fee, then we can pay for the books,” he said.

Omotuebe agreed and added to Poudel’s comment, saying, “Sometimes, I don’t want to buy the textbooks to save money.”

He also said one could focus more on learning with lower tuition.

“I think I would be able finish college faster,” he said. “Sometimes, I wouldn’t take some classes because I know I have to pay.”

Lower tuition would “definitely” encourage more international students to come to the U.S., he added.

Beverati said, “I personally know a lot of people who want to come here but don’t have enough money to do it.”

She also said she does not feel like she is always getting her money’s worth.

She said that while some teachers are great and engrossing in their methods, not every instructor is.

“Sometimes, I’m in class and then feel like saying, ‘what you’re saying is not correct,’” Beverati said. “Sometimes, you pay a lot to just sit there.”

Cox said he initially brought forward the proposal to revise international tuition to the senate to see how its members would react.

Cox said, however, that the senate does not have authority to change tuition rates, as the board of trustees is the one with the authority to do so. That said, the issue can be taken up to the board.

“Because the Faculty Senate represents the voice of the faculty at San Antonio College, I just kind of wanted to show them, ‘this is what we’re thinking, what do you think?’ and if the Faculty Senate says, ‘we think this is a good idea; we would endorse this,’ then that just gives a little bit of credibility (to the issue),” Cox said.

Cox

That way, announcing support for lowering international tuition through the unified voice of the faculty at this college would strengthen the effort to raise conversation about the issue, he said.

During the Oct. 19 senate meeting, Cox told members: “I’m proposing that we set our international student tuition for 12 semester credit hours at $1,800 to be competitive with Houston (Community College).”

The senate agreed to the motion, provided some amending was made to it first.

“They wanted to make sure that if we lowered international student tuition, we didn’t put that tuition at a rate lower than out-of-district student tuition,” Cox said. “So we’re proposing one rate for domestic students — that’s the people that live inside Bexar County — and another rate for people who live out of district, people who aren’t residents of Texas and international students.”

That tuition rate implementation would be the ideal scenario, Cox said.

“The fact that the senate said, ‘yes, we would be in favor of this kind of a resolution,’ just helps me go with confidence when I make a case for trying to lower international student tuition,” he said.

Cox said there is a moral obligation to making educational services available to as many people as possible.

“It doesn’t stop just with our students,” he said. “The impact that we have on our students goes back to their home countries and it affects their family members, their extended family, the people they know. Other people end up coming here. It has long-range impact that we really can’t even calculate.”

Lopez said if he could say something to members of the board, he would say this:

“I think international students do bring something to the table,” he said. “Most of the international students here do want to succeed. I mean, it’s tough because of the money you’re paying; you’re trying to improve yourself. So I do think we’re bringing something up to this country and up to this campus and to our community.”

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