To my international friends, I love you, but … to my fellow U.S. citizens here at Columbia, we have cause for concern regarding the administration’s belief that “the proportion of international students should be much higher than it is now” (“Nearly one-quarter international, CU weighs its global balance,” Dec. 7). This is not an overture to a jingoistic article filled with vitriolic hate or xenophobic ramblings. America faces unprecedented political, technological, financial, and environmental challenges in the years to come, and we need to ensure a well-educated population to meet these challenges effectively.
It is impossible to argue with the notion that international students provide diversity. International students represent scores of different countries and languages and have grown up in genuinely different cultures with a whole host of alternative mindsets. Interesting? Yes. But America’s 312 million people represent every U.N. member nation, non-member observer, island, and microstate in the world. We are a nation of immigrants. Growing up black in Biloxi differs markedly from growing up white in Bel Air, which doesn’t compare to growing up Asian in Minot. America is home to atheists and evangelicals, fascists and communists, and, perhaps most at odds, Bieber and Jay-Z fans. While most countries were conceived along ethnic and religious lines, making them remarkably homogenous, the Class of 2017 could be entirely American and as diverse as any in the University’s history.
In fact, the vast majority of international students have one thing in common that separates them from their American counterparts: money. Naturally, there are plenty of wealthy Americans at Columbia, but more than 50 percent of undergraduates are on financial aid. The cost of an American education has become so prohibitive that even the upper-middle class struggles to educate their children. International students, on the other hand, typically pay full tuition because Columbia’s need-blind policy doesn’t apply to international students. Though President Bollinger has repeatedly talked about improving financial aid, only 23.8 percent of international students received funding from Columbia in the 2011-2012 school year. And it goes without saying that the U.S. government doesn’t foot the international bill. The idea that international students can provide a perspective on poverty that we don’t have in America is preposterous.
Columbia should feel a sense of duty to educate America’s intellectual, political, and financial elite of tomorrow. As Columbians, we come from a long tradition of American intellectualism. Columbia has educated presidents, Supreme Court justices, senators, representatives, governors, Nobel Prize winners, Academy Award winners, and countless others. This institution has left an indelible impression upon not only the founding of American society—Columbia also educated signers of the Declaration of Independence—but also the development of America into a country that will leave a lasting impression, both good and bad, on future civilizations. In order to ensure that America continues in such a capacity, we have an obligation to educate our own citizens. Why should Columbia, an American university, accept more and more foreign students and put the time and effort into educating them, when it is unsure whether they will be able to stay in the U.S. after graduation. Columbia accepts wealthy internationals in the name of diversity, only to turn away an American who could have been the next great statesman. Or on an even more realistic scale, could have been the first person in his or her family to go to college.
If all else fails, the United States should demand it of us. Columbia could not operate without the support of the U.S. taxpayer. As reported by Arizona State University’s Center for Measuring University Performance, Columbia received $483 million in government research grants in 2008. These funds don’t all go to the researchers who won grants, but rather, according to the University’s research compliance statements, up to 61 percent goes straight into University coffers. However, even this figure is five years old, so overhead is likely slightly higher now. According to a survey by the Association of University Technology Managers, in 2009 Columbia made $154 million off patent royalties and licensing agreements, the result of faculty research done with, you guessed it, government grants. According to the University’s webpage, Columbia’s operating budget is roughly $3.3 billion, nearly half of which goes to the Medical Center, which has its own revenue stream. When all is said and done, the government accounts for almost a third of Columbia’s actual educational budget. These numbers don’t even include financial aid to students and federally funded work-study programs.
A successful future depends upon a well-educated population. We owe it to our country to educate American citizens. Patriae erexit.
The author is a Columbia College sophomore majoring in physics and concentrating in German literature.
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