All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Nice analysis by David North on coverage by the NYT and SJ Mercury News regarding the Optional Practical Training program, under which international students can work for 1-3 years after graduation (counted as part of their foreign student visa). Note in particular the item on the “fleet-of-foot Yale University.”

I would take issue with David on one point, though:

The Times article focused…on an interesting set of “victims”, all of whom are former or current students at Ivy League universities. This gives a lopsided view of the program that routinely provides subsidized jobs to more than 200,000 alumni of less highly regarded institutions.

The fact is that even the “highly-regarded institutions” are treating international master’s degree students as lucrative revenue sources, with lower admissions requirements as long as the students can pay full freight. See for instance my post on Columbia and UC.

A Tragedy and an Appalling Coverup

Very unsettling story in the Kansas City Star. An international student from India at the University of Missouri, Kansas City, while apparently working illegally at a nearby fast-food restaurant owned by an Indian-American, was shot to death by a would-be robber. Unfortunately, the first instinct of the chancellor of the university, fearing the feds would bar the school from enrolling foreign students due to the discovery that one was working illegally, was to lie about the situation. The university released a statement that the slain student had merely been “helping a family friend” by working at the restaurant,  rather than for pay.

Needless to say, the chancellor, who is also ethnic Indian, overreacted. A university has no responsibility to monitor foreign students for possible illegal work off-campus. Yet his action shows how desperate he was to enroll large numbers of international students — the article mentions a large Indian student population in particular — as a “revenue enhancement” source. At public universities, foreign students are usually charged higher tuition, typically paid as full-freight levels with little or no financial aid provided. (This particular student did receive an $8,000 scholarship.)

Note that such considerations often mean a lower admissions bar for international students, as pointed out by a California State Legislative Analyst report a few years ago for UC. Some of the foreign students are absolutely superb, but many struggle with the curriculum and language, and seldom interact with the American students.

Advocates of international students like to say that those students contribute to local economies. This is typical PR sleight-of-hand; had more Americans been admitted instead of the foreigns, those Americans would be contributing to local economies.

And it is now commonplace, at UC and elsewhere, to offers special master’s programs, aimed specifically at obtaining foreign student revenue.

But there is a key element missing in the Star article — why did that student feel the need to work illegally in the first place? The article reports,

Koppu’s certificate of eligibility for non-immigrant student status shows that he came to Kansas City with $28,304 in personal funds and had also received an $8,000 scholarship from UMKC.

That just matched the $36,234 that UMKC estimates it would cost a grad student from overseas in Koppu’s field of study to attend school for nine months.

Which left him $70 for walking-around money.

Well, no. The computation of that $36,234 already allowed for walking-around money, not just for tuition, rent and food. The likely reason this student needed to work illegally is that that “$28,304 in personal funds” was partly fake. An uncle (who also may be fake) will formally commit to providing the student with $x of yearly support, but he and the student will have an understanding that the uncle will never have to actually shell out any money; the student will somehow find ways to come up with his/her own funds, often through illegal work at a local ethnic restaurant.

Sad story all around.