Stanford Still Hasn’t Opened its Doors to the World

Winter quarter is a busy time at Stanford. Academics aside, the ‘recruitment season’ for students across campus is a time for future planning, when students weigh in on their many options for employment, summer classes and service opportunities, experiences that prove crucial in developing students’ lives outside of the classroom. But while her peers searched, interviewed and picked their summer opportunities last year, Anonymous ‘14 already knew where she was heading come June. Last summer, the sophomore joined a team in the Singapore Armed Forces, a mandatory requirement of the government-sponsored scholarship that supports her studies at Stanford.

She is one of several international students at Stanford on state or industry sponsored scholarships from their home countries, several of which require undergraduates to sign long term contracts with specific departments and organizations that have guidelines about course and work choices.

Students at Stanford on scholarships from Saudi Aramco for example, the state owned oil company, must choose their courses within a set list of Engineering majors while ASTAR, Singapore’s equivalent of the National Science Foundation, requires its scholars to study specific science disciplines that must be selected prior to their university careers. Many of these programs feature clauses about employment.

The ASTAR program requires students to complete mandatory PHD’s while Singapore’s Public Services Commission has a six-year work attachment for any participating student.

Stanford’s lack of need-blind admission for international students often forces new admits to turn to these scholarships, despite the possible restrictions on their academic and work choices. More importantly, the lack of support deters overseas students from even applying, looking to Stanford’s peer institutions that are more supportive of international students.

“Stanford was my top choice but matriculating there meant taking up a Public scholarship” says an incoming Freshman at Harvard University from South Korea who chose to remain anonymous, “At 19, I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my life as an employee for a Sovereign Wealth Fund.” Harvard, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Dartmouth all offer international students need-blind financial aid, separating students’ ability to afford infamously high tuition bills from their academic merit.

In contrast, Stanford restricts its offers of admission with financial aid to a small number of international applicants a year. According to the Office of Financial Aid’s website information on international applications, “a student’s request for financial aid may be a factor in the admission decision.”

Scholarship Commitments Limit Students****

The impact of scholarships on students’ choices while at University often extends beyond lecture halls, impacting decisions about student life and extracurricular activities. Committing to work at an organization even prior to attending Stanford, while serving as a guiding focus, can reduce incentives for bright students to fully explore the eclectic student life. “It can divert your attention to the activities most relevant to your future work,” acknowledges a current undergraduate attached to Singapore’s Public Services Commission.

In addition, scholarship officers review transcripts and course selections every quarter, a process that deters students form experimenting with Stanford’s broad selection of courses.

“Every year of overseas study on scholarship” states one South East Asian public utilities board’s website page, “entails an additional year of work attachment.” It is no surprise then, that several students on state-sponsored programs often complete their undergraduate majors in three years instead of the usual four, eschewing the range of classes outside of students’ majors aimed at offering undergraduates a strong and broad based liberal-arts education.

As the University shifts toward reducing Humanities and general education requirements in the wake of the recent SUES report, one can guess at the realistic possibility of a narrow, technical Stanford education that falls short of the university’s much cited claim of educating ‘well rounded’ citizens.

Reviews and Checks

Students on these programs are required to submit their course selections and transcripts to their sponsoring agencies on a quarterly basis, often to ensure that the state authorities can vet academic choices. While the numbers are not open to public scrutiny, officers have been known to reject courses enrollments should they fail to see the direct value of a class to a student’s major or future work assignment. “I enrolled in a Psychology seminar last Spring” said a Civil Engineering major on a scholarship from his country’s public utilities authority who is remaining anonymous to avoid losing his scholarship, “but had to withdraw before the course deadline”. Expressing an interest in the social sciences, the student put in a request to continue with Psychology, but was encouraged to pursue classes in Public Policy instead.

Future Possibilities

Stanford’s commitment to combining the most dedicated students, faculty and staff under the arches of a university where “The Winds of Freedom Blow” has no doubt led to its prestigious standing today. But the current experiences of the many students who spend their undergraduate years on campus with the weight of a pre-determined major, job and commitment to an organization for lack of the university’s financial support seems counter intuitive to the Farm’s founding principles. As the university celebrates the heartening successes of the Stanford Challenge that has raised $6.23 billion in total and over $253 billion in scholarship funds, extending better aid to its international applicants would add significant value to Stanford’s goal of bringing together the most dedicated and worthy students from around the world to its campus.

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