As campus discourse continues to focus on making Georgetown a vibrant, diverse and welcoming home for all, there is one group that is consistently ignored: international students. The position of international students within the Georgetown community reveals both a weakness in the university’s genuine commitment to diversity and international-mindedness and a stark social division within our student body.
If Georgetown wants to maintain its legitimacy as a truly global institution, it must match its actions with its words by offering greater financial aid to international students. In doing so, it would not only increase the socioeconomic diversity of the international student population but would also help bridge the gap that currently exists between international students and their American peers.
According to the Office of Global Services, there are 2,221 international students across all Georgetown programs, constituting approximately 11 percent of the overall student body. OGS lauds itself on this international student population, hailing it as “an integral part” and “a point of pride” of the Georgetown community.
This emphasis on international students is hardly surprising given Georgetown’s reputation as a globally oriented institution. Our location at the center of international affairs, coupled with our numerous campuses and facilities around the globe in Qatar, Turkey and Italy, testify to the university’s commitment to engaging with the world. This international outlook is also firmly anchored in Georgetown’s Jesuit values, which emphasize the importance of pluralism and cross-cultural understanding.
Still, Georgetown remains one of the only top American universities to offer next to no financial aid to international students. Ivy League universities, for example, offer much more significant financial assistance to their international students: Columbia University, Harvard University and Yale University were all included on U.S. News and World Report’s list of the top-10 colleges and universities that offer the most financial aid to international students. Georgetown, meanwhile, explicitly states that financial aid is “extremely limited” for overseas students and includes only a “very limited number of need-based scholarships.” According to a 2009 op-ed published in The Hoya, Georgetown was not among the three percent of colleges that awarded scholarships to more than 15 undergraduate international students in 2007.
It is well-known that Georgetown struggles with the socioeconomic diversity of its student population. A January 2017 New York Times study found that Georgetown had more students from the top 1 percent of the income scale than from the bottom 60 percent.
Although the study focused on the incomes of American citizens, there is little doubt that this lack of socioeconomic diversity extends to the international community, for which there is less publicly available information.
Given the virtual absence of financial aid, international applicants must be capable of paying the entire four-year cost of a Georgetown education. As a result, the international applicant pool is significantly reduced, not because of a lack of academic or extracurricular achievements but rather on the grounds of wealth and income. Prospective international applicants are forced to give up on applying to Georgetown, simply due to the financial impossibility of attending without aid. This constitutes an incredible loss to our community, especially considering the unique perspectives that these lower-income international pupils could potentially contribute. Moreover, for students in underdeveloped countries who may otherwise be caught in cycles of violence and poverty, financial aid could present one of the only opportunities to study at such a renowned institution, providing a crucial boost for future career prospects.
A re-examination of the university’s international financial aid would also help bridge the current divide between international and American students on campus. The lack of financial assistance for international students has created a perception that all international students belong to a very wealthy minority. It is unfair, however, to paint international students with such a broad brush. Many international students whose families are unable to pay the full cost of Georgetown sacrifice significantly to attend their dream school. While some apply for highly competitive and demanding scholarships, others take out loans or choose to stay on campus during holidays to reduce the financial burden on their families.
There nonetheless persists an unspoken divide on campus between international and American students. A recent study on the experiences of international students in the United States revealed that 38 percent went home after college without having made real American friends. Though this may not be exactly the case at Georgetown, the university leadership should still help bridge the differences between these two groups in order to prevent such divisions. Providing financial aid to international students is a unique opportunity for the university to not only reaffirm its commitment to diversity, equality and cosmopolitanism, but also to help remedy the often unfair reputation of international students.
In a world increasingly divided along national, religious, economic and ethnic lines, the value of cross-cultural interaction and understanding is unquestionable. Georgetown is failing to fully embrace the opportunities that a diverse and integrated international student population could present. Providing financial aid to international students would be an important step in the right direction — and this era of global division is the perfect time to take it.
Alexandre Kleitman is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service. He is an international student originally from France.