Financial Aid Discrimination

Harvard must ensure that international students receive equal financial aid consideration

As next year’s financial aid applications are being evaluated, every international student is happy to hear that Harvard claims to give foreign students the same access to funding as U.S. citizens. And upon first glance, it appears that financial aid is equivalent whether your family earns money in U.S. dollars or British pounds; unfortunately, this is not the case. Upon closer inspection, the Federal Work-Study Program (FWSP), an integral part of the College’s financial aid program, is only available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents. This considerable qualification excludes over 10 percent of the Harvard class from the plethora of opportunities provided by the program.

The benefits of FWSP are apparent. Practically every job on campus is on a work-study preferred basis, meaning an employer would rather hire someone eligible for work-study jobs than someone who’s not. Under the FWSP the government pays 70 percent of a student’s wages—an obvious incentive for any employer. But this means that international students are immediately at a disadvantage when applying for literally thousands of jobs on and around campus.

The FWSP is excellent in that it offers financial aid recipients an additional source of income. It gives work-study students an edge on employment in some of the most sought-after jobs on campus, and it allows them to be paid for extracurricular activities many people would choose to do anyway. Yet in its current form, the FWSP discriminates against every international student. And while Harvard emphasizes the importance of maintaining a diverse student body, it allows international students to be discriminated against.

House libraries and labs are two of the most sought after jobs on campus—and also two of the most heavily affected by FWSP. The library jobs, for instance, essentially pay their student “librarians” to do their homework. And not only are laboratory jobs interesting and well paid, many view them as essential for résumé-building for medical and graduate schools. Yet, international students with financial situations that would otherwise qualify them for FWSP are often excluded from these positions simply because they aren’t U.S. citizens. It’s simply ridiculous that they’re barred from these experiences due to such an outwardly discriminatory policy.

The optimal situation would be for FWSP to be expanded to accommodate international students attending U.S. colleges; however, why would a humble Alabaman taxpayer want to help pay for an Englishman’s education? It’s unlikely that this proposal would ever be accepted; this does not, however, mean that there’s nothing to be done. By tweaking its programs to create more equal opportunities for international students, Harvard can end this discrimination.

If Harvard created a program for international students who would otherwise qualify for FWSP, in which 70 percent of students’ wages were supplemented, greater equality could be reached. Harvard could force campus employers to treat job applicants equally if they were eligible for FWSP or Harvard’s equivalent. Summer employment would still be an issue, as FWSP has opportunities across the country and pays 60 percent of the summer wage, but it would still be an improvement to the current system.

Federal work-study is an excellent program, but unfortunately no international student can qualify for it—no matter what their income level. Harvard must find a way to include the 10 percent of Harvard that is automatically excluded from the benefits provided by FWSP.

Zander D. Rafael ’07, a Crimson editorial editor, lives in Wigglesworth Hall.