GWU’s Asian students explore financial options

GW students hard hit by the Asian economic crisis are being offered relief by the University, though some are worried this aid will fall short of their needs.

Tuition deferment and employment plans are among options being presented to students. Some Asian students are cutting their living expenses to meet the cost of GW tuition.

The economic straits stem from a dramatic dip in currency values in Pacific Rim nations during recent months.

During the past six months, the value of the Korean won has fallen from about 800 won per dollar to about 1,600 won per dollar today. The Indonesian rupiah plunged from 2,400 per dollar to a current rate of 17,000 per dollar. The Thai baht dropped from 25 baht per dollar to 50 baht per dollar.

As their nations’ currencies drop across the world, Asian students at GW are faced with their own set of economic difficulties. It would have cost a Korean student 1.6 million won to pay GW’s $20,245 undergraduate tuition six months ago. Now students would need to pay the equivalent of 3.6 million won a year.

Some students from the Pacific Rim have been forced to return to their home countries.

GW’s Office of Institutional Research reports that Korean student enrollment is down about 18 percent since the fall semester and that Thai student enrollment is about 8 percent lower.

However, the figures are still preliminary since the research office will not take its final census of student population until February, when students who do not pay tuition are dropped from University enrollment.

“There are a lot of Korean students who returned home because of their financial situation,” said Korean-American student Ha Jeung (Julie) Lee.

But at a meeting last week, Stephen L. Bennett, assistant director of the International Services Office, outlined options that could keep students in school in the United States.

Tuition deferment, a plan originated in the School of Business and Public Management and later adopted throughout the University, gives these students what they need most – time. Bennett said hope exists among the students that the crisis in the Pacific Rim will pass within the next few months.

Students were required to make a down payment of $1,000 at the beginning of the semester, but the deferment plan allows students hit by the economic crisis to postpone half their tuition payment until March 4. After that deadline, interest and possible late fees begin to accrue if complete payment is not made.

“We appreciate the deferment plan, but the problem will not go away in two months,” said Martin Hutagalung, president of the Indonesian Student Association.

Thai Student Association President Nuttapong Praokeaw said the March 4 deadline will help students, but does not provide much time for the Asian economies to recover.

“(The deferment) is helpful but not a solution,” Bennett said. “(Students) should express some appreciation, but should also encourage the University to move the date back.”

Among other options, Bennett suggested students take some classes at cheaper institutions like Northern Virginia Community College. But he said students must check with their departments ahead of time to gain approval for non-GW classes.

Several employment options also could provide students with extra funds to pay their tuition. But for foreign students, employment options are limited. As full-time international students, the Immigration and Naturalization Service’s F-1 status allows them only to hold part-time, on-campus jobs.

Students studying in the country for more than nine months can work off campus, Bennett said. The University’s optional practical training program allows full-time international students to take any part-time job for 12 months.

But Bennett said OPT is not the best way for students to earn money because they need INS approval, which can take several months to obtain. He said foreign students generally benefit from saving their OPT time until they complete their coursework so they are not forced to return immediately to their respective countries after graduation.

Another option, curricular practical training, provides full- or part-time foreign students more benefits, Bennett said. CPT, offered through the University’s cooperative education program, allows the students to take full- or part-time jobs in their field of study. Since the University administers the program, not the INS, students are saved months of waiting for approval.

Foreign students who do not meet the requirements of the curricular or optional training programs can petition the INS for a work permit based on economic need. To obtain a permit, a student must submit a letter that explains his or her background and the basis of the financial need. The process also requires a $70 fee.

Indonesian, Malaysian, Korean and Thai students are drafting a joint proposal asking the University to explore more solutions, ISO Director Judith Green said. Students hope to open more doors for loans and private financial support, she said.

SBPM Interim Dean Jed Kee said he that though he is sympathetic to the students’ economic plight, financial aid is allotted at the beginning of the year leaving the University little flexibility.

But even if GW helps Asian students manage their tuition, rent and other living expenses still may pose a problem.

“Money that was supposed to last for four years now only last for one year,” Hutagalung said.

Students say they have had to skimp and save so their families will not have to send more money.

Praokeaw said his parents sent $1,700 a month for his living expenses before the economic crisis hit his country. But he said he feels guilty asking his parents, who support his education, for more money. He said he has cut his expenses to $1,400 a month.

“People are deciding to share apartments and reduce all their living costs,” Praokeaw said.

“Most of us started eating at home a lot,” Hutagalung said.

The value of education in Eastern cultures makes the sacrifices in living expenses necessary, said GW Professor Young-Key Kim-Renaud, who teaches Korean culture and language.

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