Editor’s note: This is part four in a five part series surrounding the life of international students on the campus of the University of Wisconsin-Superior.
The number of international students in the United States has eclipsed one million, according to the 2019 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange. This number is expected to continue increasing as thousands of international undergraduates continue coming to the United States.
While international students recognize the United States as having some of the best educational opportunities in the world, they also recognize the high price tag that comes along with it. Domestic students are well aware of the staggering cost of education in the United States, and international students experience their fair share of financial problems.
Tuition is likely the first hurdle international students will have to clear. Typically, the price is set higher for international students than those who are domestic. At the University of Wisconsin-Superior (UWS) for example, the cashier’s office reports that full-time, non-resident undergraduates pay around $7,800 per semester, compared to the approximate $4,000 per semester charged to Wisconsin students.
There is a sharp contrast in these two numbers; however, when compared to the national average of $26,300 for non-native students, it is much more affordable for both native and non-native students to attend UWS. Trends indicate that the price of college is going up, as well. Each year, fees rise by an average of 4.02% according to the National Center of Education Statistics.
Donna Dahlvang, the Director of Financial Aid at UWS, provided some advice for students struggling with the cost of their education. “One thing that [students] can do with their tuition fee bill is to pay attention to that bill. On-campus courses on this campus, 12 to 18 credits are in a plateau and you pay the same price, so you can really curb your expenses by trying to graduate as quickly as possible; and one way to do that is to take as many credits as you can manage successfully in one semester. If 12-to-18 credits costs the same price, take 18 if you can academically be successful at 18 credits.”
Many international students use wire transfers to electronically transfer funds from their home countries. Wire transfers are known for being safe, secure, and fast as the funds go directly from one bank to another. However, services charges are usually included for sending money internationally.
Using different currency also has a daily impact on international students. Many students become confused about U.S. currency, especially coins and the decimal system. The change in forms of currency can cause decisions about where or what to eat to become difficult ones. Thao Mai, a student from Vietnam, said, “It always took time for me to think carefully before I bought or paid for something during my first year in Superior. While it was đồng in Vietnam, it is dollars in the U.S. For example, when I went to Walmart and I found something I liked, I would check the price first, and then convert the price into đồng so that I could have a sense whether that item is too expensive or not. Now I am used to it, and I could make a decision much more quickly by thinking about only dollars.”
Currency fluctuations also play a role for international students. Many global currencies have suffered over the past year. hese declines in currency value make it more difficult for international students to afford their college tuition and daily life expenses in the United States. Students who thought they were able to cover the funding of their education might suddenly find that they are short due to fluctuations.
One way to help manage expenses is by creating a budget. It is important when creating a budget to think beyond tuition and housing. Students and their families must consider things like books, supplies, health insurance, personal items, travel costs, and much more. “Being a student, it’s just curbing other expenses as much as possible,” said Dahlvang.
Scholarships can also help international students manage their expenses. Scholarships, unlike loans, do not have to be paid back. Christopher Jersett, the scholarship and stewardship associate at UWS, talked about how much money the UW-Superior Foundation has awarded this year. “For the 2019-20 academic year, the Foundation awarded about $940,000 in scholarship. The average award per student is about $2,500.”
For new UWS students, scholarship applications are accepted all year, but usually have a priority deadline of mid-November. For current students, most applications are accepted only during February. There are also some other opportunity applications, such as for study away programs, which are accepted all year. “We are not the only source of scholarships. For non-foundation scholarships, you can talk to an academic department or the financial aid office. They always maintain links of references to outside scholarships,” said Jersett.
Another outlet for international students is through student employment. “There are approximately 100 student employees on campus that are international student employees, and they hold about 180 positions,” said Brittany Hansen, the student payroll and benefits specialist at UWS. In addition to money, student employees gain work experience and résumé builders. “That’s important for all of our student employees. I think it’s particularly important for international student employee, because sometimes there are culture differences there. They maybe haven’t had the opportunity to be in the U.S. for very long, so this is a good way for them to safely learn some of those things prior to going out in the real professional world after graduation, so it gives some opportunity to learn a lot of those skills if they intend to stay in the U.S. at any point,” said Dahlvang.
Student employees, such as Jinjoo Kim, from South Korea, also consider working on campus to be a rewarding experience. “I like working on campus. The first and the most important reason is that I can earn money to help with my expenses. My parents still help me with tuition fees, but if I work often, I can afford my daily expenses by myself, and actually working on campus is much more than that. Because of different jobs, I know more new people, new colleagues. I can make new friends, and most of them are super good people. I learn a lot of useful things through working and it can enrich my life and make me a better person.”
There are some drawbacks to student employment, however. “I try hard to balance my work, my life, and my study. My friends who don’t need to work, they can just start to study or have more time to hang out after class, but usually I would need to work before doing those things. It’s one of the sad parts,” said Kim.
Student employment also comes with some restrictions, noted Hansen. “The max hours that they could work while school is in session is 20 hours per week. When school is not in session, they are allowed to work 40 hours per week.”
Financial issues are one of the most stressful problems students face. While UWS offers financial aid programs, many students do not take advantage of them. “If you end up in a rough situation, like you are running out of funds from family or whatever to attend, talk to the international office, talk to your department advisor. There are funds that exist, that you can apply for, that could potentially help you get out of those situations. Definitely come to them if you are struggling,” said Jersett.