International students left in lurch by US university

Dozens of students from Nepal have been left in the lurch after an American university revoked full scholarships granted for their undergraduate studies, as they were making final preparations to enrol for this year’s intake.

In a letter issued to the students the University of Texas at Tyler (UT Tyler) administration said: “We initially thought we could include you as a fellow this year, but the popularity of the programme was far greater than expected.” The University of Texas at Tyler is part of the University of Texas system, which includes 14 institutions throughout the US southern state.

To provide some relief to the dejected students the university said it would provide a ‘Patriot Scholarship’, a US$5,000 award renewable for three years while allowing the Nepali students to qualify for in-state tuition fees, rather than the much higher out-of-state rate that usually applies to international students. However, the amount is still US$16,000 a year lower than the full scholarships offered earlier and the students say they cannot afford to pay the rest.

Hritik Rawat from Dang in western Nepal says he was overjoyed when he received a confirmation email from the UT Tyler in the third week of November for a ‘full ride’ scholarship, as a full scholarship is known. The university had agreed to provide a full scholarship worth US$21,000 a year for four years, covering tuition fees, accommodation, meals and books.

He had already paid US$100 to confirm the scholarship, as requested by the university, and US$125 for a housing deposit, and had applied for a US student visa. But his joy was short-lived as another email from the university shattered his dream to study at an American university on a full scholarship.

In the email sent to him on 13 April, the eve of the Nepali New Year, Sarah Bowdin, the assistant vice president for enrolment at the university, said the university had revoked the scholarship because requests for scholarships had exceeded the amount budgeted for the year.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes at first. That was the height of recklessness by a university, which I never imagined would happen,” Rawat said. He was planning to study engineering and says he rejected offers from other universities.

‘Lost a year’

Rawat, who provided University World News with the documentation from UT Tyler, says there would have been some window to apply to other universities had Tyler informed him some months ago. “Now I can neither join Tyler nor have enough time to apply for other universities,” he said, adding he had lost a year.

He is not alone. Of 84 Nepali students granted the full scholarship, the university revoked just over 50.

Saru Sharma from Pokhara was offered a similar scholarship worth $20,968 annually from Tyler for the August intake to study nursing. While she had already received a certificate of eligibility and was preparing her visa application, she received the revocation email.

“The university has shattered my dreams,” Sharma told University World News. “Your success, our passion is the UT Tyler’s slogan, but it has ‘screwed’ my career.”

Among applicants who had applied for undergraduate degrees, those with SAT scores of 1,350 and good academic standing had received a Presidential Fellow Scholarship from the university. According to students, the university provided the scholarships on a first-come, first-served basis and had sought a confirmation fee after issuing the documentation of the offer.

The stranded students said they are trying to pressure the university to withdraw its decision and implement what it had offered earlier. “They [the university administration] have now stopped responding to us,” said Roman Shrestha, another affected student.

UT Tyler response

Lucas Roebuck, UT Tyler vice-president of marketing and head of communications, told University World News: “It was a perfect storm of completely overwhelming demand and some very effective social media marketing by some of our current Nepali students who are here at UT Tyler now, so [it was] something totally unprecedented to what we have ever seen before.”

He added: “Obviously there were some were unfortunate oversights on our part and we deeply regret what has happened.”

This year, primarily to attract high-performing students, “we created the Presidential Scholarship which was a ‘full ride’ scholarship for very highly-qualified students – we’re talking 1,350 SATs [scores] and above. But no one expected that we would have close to a hundred qualified applicants.”

“Traditionally institutions will offer scholarships and they expect what we call ’melt’ – some students go somewhere else. But from this cohort the yield of students who were actually putting their deposits down was in the region of 90 to 95% – a huge yield that was unheard of and I can’t really say why.”

He said the international students were from Nepal, with only four students from other countries. “We had this cohort primarily of Nepali students who qualified for a scholarship and the unfortunate part was the letters went out to everybody to say ‘You’re in’ and that’s what obviously caused the problem. We clearly did not have the budget to support this – last year we only had one top-merit offer in terms of number of students.”

Roebuck said the university will honour 30 Nepali students’ and five other international students’ ‘full ride’ scholarships at UT Tyler based on the highest test scores, “but there was no way we could accommodate the hundred applications or so”.

For the rest, “the reality is we did offer the in-state tuition rate which is a substantial discount, plus an additional scholarship of US$5,000. And some aren’t going to be able to do it and we are very sorry about that.”

He said of those offered the replacement US$5,000 scholarship, about half would not take them up and had asked for refunds.

“We’re going to put some safeguards and new protocols in place to make sure this never happens again. We’re not in a rush right now to say this is the new policy, but we’re going to look at best practices and talk with some of our industry cohorts like NACAC and make sure we don’t over-offer ever again or put out any offer that we cannot fulfil,” he said referring to the US National Association for College Admission Counseling which has its own ethics codes to protect the rights of students.

“We are still investing in international scholarships and at a much higher rate than we’ve ever done before, so our commitment to bringing international students to UT Tyler is still strong.”