A Call for Need-Blind International Financial Aid

A Call for Need-Blind International Financial Aid

Stanford recently announced a 7% increase in tuition and a large expansion of their financial aid. Families earning up to $100,000 will now pay nothing to attend Stanford. The university’s virtuous mission to support “students of all economic backgrounds” seems more true than ever, yet their continued refusal to have need-blind international financial aid admissions stands in the face of this very promise.

Among peer institutions—including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, MIT, and Dartmouth—Stanford alone does not have international need-blind admissions. With Stanford’s endowment now swelling to nearly $40 billion and their decision to expand financial aid for US applicants, it is time for Stanford to change their financial aid policy for international students.

Stanford’s refusal to offer international students the same need-blind financial aid given to US students is hypocritical and discriminatory. Stanford’s policy goes against their own standards of equity and inclusion, flies in the face of the university's mission to support students of all economic backgrounds and contributes to losing out on the top talent the world has to offer. Stanford should extend need-blind admissions to all students—not just those lucky enough to be born with a US passport.

Not providing international need-blind financial aid is a failure of Stanford’s own commitment to equity and inclusion. Stanford states that “we aim to build a community that reflects the demographics of our society.” In fact, Stanford even upholds this virtue when it practices affirmative action, posts diversity statements and hires a Vice President for Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging—undermining just how much Stanford values equity. It claims that “increasing the diversity of students [...] at Stanford University is critical,” yet, among the international student body, Stanford is unwilling to uphold their very own principles of inclusion. International students are overwhelmingly higher-income as a consequence of Stanford’s explicit policy that wards off potential admits by holding those of lower-income to a far higher standard. For Stanford’s international students, their “equity” is only upheld for the wealthiest.

The unwillingness to provide fair admissions for all students contradicts the very purpose of Stanford as an academic institution. According to Stanford’s website, “Stanford has always been a wellspring of new ideas and innovative solutions, where curious people come to make a difference.” Regardless of economic backgrounds, Stanford suggests that it wants to take the best students, just like they do for US students. However, their economic discrimination among international students means that most international students come from a very similar background: high income.

Stanford’s refusal to provide need-blind admissions contradicts their own goal to create “interactions among students with different backgrounds and experiences” which produce a “dynamic environment in which to learn and live.” The brightest and most curious students from across the world aspire to come to Stanford and make a difference, but if they are an international student needing financial aid, they may never get this opportunity.

Stanford’s income discrimination directly leads to a higher standard that international students must meet. One international student I know said their admissions file explicitly stated that it is “hard to know if it’s enough for aid pool in REA [restrictive early action]” and that they “hope there’s space in the IFA [international financial aid] pool.” The strongest applicants, should Stanford not be need-blind, are now forced to meet an even higher standard, since their admission is dependent on their income.

This discrimination based on income for international students contributes to losing the top talent to peer institutions. Given that other top schools such as Harvard and Princeton are need-blind for internationals, many feel discouraged to apply to Stanford because they have to be even more exceptional to get in. Top candidates, therefore, apply to other colleges and never even bother giving Stanford serious consideration.

Stanford’s failure to provide need-blind international financial aid is a failure judged on its own metrics. Not only does it contravene Stanford’s very own commitment to equity and inclusion, but it also contravenes Stanford’s own mission, all while degrading the quality of its students. Stanford must do better, and there has never been a better time to do so.

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