Is Education in the United States Worth it? An International Perspective

Poorvi Modi | The PhoenixEducation isn’t reachable for all; there is a lack of support for financially challenged international students. Neither schools nor the government step up.

As I walked out of class the other day, my friend, who’s an international student on an F1 visa — a student visa that allows a person to stay in the United States for education purposes — asked me if I knew about any job openings on campus. As a non-citizen of the United States, she can’t be employed off-campus.

I am a U.S. citizen but with both my parents working in India and earning in Indian currency, I personally understand the financial effort that goes into funding education abroad — especially with the prevailing conversion rates. While my friends back in India pay roughly a total of 400,000 Indian rupees (INR) annually at private universities, Loyola’s tuition directly translates to more than 1,200,000 INR for a semester even after deducting the scholarship and federal aid. A large sum of money is lost not only in conversion, but also in international wire transfers for the tuition and expenses every semester.

Despite my family being fairly well-off in India, paying for tuition and expenses in United States dollar takes up a significant proportion of the earnings and savings each quarter.

Theoretically, international students on F1 visas can get a paid internship off-campus but in reality, most firms and organizations look for interns who can be hired to work full-time once they graduate. These organizations aren’t necessarily wrong in their approach since training interns involves investing time and resources. However, such an approach curbs the development of potentially valuable human resources and violates the right to equality of opportunity for competent candidates.

Despite the United States being associated with better opportunities and advancement, this country has disappointed countless people who came to pursue the so-called “American Dream.”

It’s no doubt universities in the United States — including Loyola — have a vast number of on-campus opportunities available, but most of them require or prefer students to have Federal Work Study, a program where the student can get a certain amount of money from the government by working part-time in a work study-qualified position. So, the one sure source of employment for international students doesn’t work out well either. On-campus opportunities usually involve clerical work or front-desk jobs, which often doesn’t directly correlate with what would enable a student to hone their academic abilities or put them to practice. On the other hand, internships not only benefit the company but also let students gain and sharpen skills specific to their field.

The provision of Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F1 visa holders allows international students to take up a job in their field for 12 months during or after their degree program. This time period doesn’t do justice to the effort put in by the students over the course of their academic program. It also doesn’t balance out expenses incurred for the college education. 

Hypothetically speaking, if a student works for 12 months after completing their four-year degree at the wage rate of $15 an hour, they most likely won’t end up making any more than $32,000 in the entire time period — assuming the person works for an average of 8 hours each day, for 260 days. This just about covers a semester and a half of Loyola’s undergraduate tuition.

These fees further increase with the mandate of living on-campus with a meal plan for first and second years. Room and board at Loyola costs at least $7,000 and the cheapest meal plan for on-campus residents is $2,555. While local students find ways to evade the system by “commuting,” out-of-state and international students don’t have a choice.

The federal government offers no aid to non-citizen international students coming to study in the U.S., except for citizens of certain countries. Additionally, the Parent PLUS Loan, a federal loan provided to the parents of the student to fund the education, is only dispensed if both parents are American citizens. 

High-ranking state schools such as University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and University of California at Berkeley only have one scholarship open for non-residents, as per their websites. While at Berkeley this scholarship is also open to instate students, increasing competition, the singular scholarship at Urbana-Champaign is need-based.

At the end of her graduation, my friend said college education in the United States will prove to be a “wasted investment — a drain on the money her parents saved up and spent on a higher-quality education.”

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