UCO Policies Aid International Students

While some international students at the University of Oklahoma have found themselves unable to enroll and risking deporting due to OU’s new bursar policy, the University of Central Oklahoma is continuing to evaluate international student’s debt on a case-by-case basis.

“Our goal is to get [international students] through graduation. We don’t want them to come here and not be able to continue,” said Timothy Kok, UCO’s Office of Global Affairs’ director of International Affairs. “Cost and tuition has increased over last three years obviously we have seen more and more students can’t really afford to continue and we try to prevent that from happening.”

International students need to enroll full time with at least 12 credit hours during regular semester and nine credit hours in the summer. When students are listed as not able to enroll it means that their Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) will be terminated and need to leave the country.

Kok said that each semester UCO OGA terminates about 30-35 cases due to various reasons such as students not enroll, students deciding to withdrawal for a semester or if the student has some medical issues and needs to leave.

Termination is the very last recourse. We want to be very careful because termination does raise a flag with the Department of State, the SEVIS and may let student into difficult times with law enforcement,” Kok said. “We want to make sure until we exhaust all options, we won’t terminate that student.”

Kok said before the enrollment deadline, the OGA will work with the Student Success office generate the list of students who have not enrolled yet. They will reach out to those students to remind them, as well as offer help.

“We just do understand that international tuition is more expensive, so a lot of times when we meet with an international student, we try to be very realistic,” said Melissa Hayt, director of Student Success Office.

UCO policy requires students to have less than $1,000 in their bursar balance in order to enroll. Students will receive a systematic hold if their balance exceeds that amount, but students can come to the Student Success office to seek help.

OU used to work with each student to evaluate their situation. However, they changed the policy last fall, which requires all students to pay off  past semesters’ balance before they can allow to enroll.

“It’s a difficult conversation with either domestic students and international students,” Hayt said. “We’re looking at things like academic performance, payment history, how close they are to finishing their degree to see if it’s possible to provide some flexibility and allow enrollment for that student.”

Hayt said Student Success staff looks at each case to see if students have any long-term plan, such as when they will make the payment, whether they have any resources like scholarships or employment that can help them pay.

“Our job and our institutional policies are in place to protect students,” Hayt said. “We don’t want to put students a financial burden on students that they can’t ever recover from.”

Kok said when he first came to UCO in 2007, there was no payment plan and students needed to pay interest for the full amount. The new payment plan UCO offers now allows students to have more time to pay and he said it helps students focus more on making payments.

When applying to any U.S. college, international students need to prove that they can afford the cost of their first year, including tuition, fees, insurance and living expenses. According to Kok, a majority of international students at UCO receive funding from family members while a few can still use their own saving money as their funding.

“Finance is always one of our top barriers for them to continue,” Kok said. “[International students’] primary provider for tuition may get into some illnesses, or they pass away or they no longer support that one student.”

Hayt said that she noticed students also have problems because some countries only allow them to transfer a specific amount of money at a time. Some students do have the funding back home but are not able to transfer it to the U.S.

Kok said after the adviser reaches out to students about any problem regarding to their student status, students have 30 days to contact the office and provide alternative plans. In the case they do not have any plan, the advisers may also advise students to take a semester break before coming back, or transfer to a community college, which has lower cost. The office will take action between 30-60 days if they do not hear anything back from the student.

“Our goal here is not to provide them with a short-term fix, but with a long-term fix,” Kok said. “If they don’t have a good plan in place, it’s going to happen again and again.”

International students are only allowed to work on campus and employment is limited to 20 hours per week during regular semesters. The Vista previously reported that some international students choose to work off campus illegally in order to earn some more money, facing with the risk of losing their student visa.

“If you work off campus, it’s violation and there’s no question about that,” Kok said.

If students have some hardship that prevent them from paying their tuition, Kok said they can find a guarantor for a loan. While international students are not eligible for any government or federal loans, he said most of the loans he has heard students obtained are through the assistance of local and sometimes national banks.

“The students would have to work with individuals who are able to serve as their guarantor, and again, it would vary from one individual to the other who the guarantor can be,” Kok said. “As far my knowledge serves me, the guarantor would have to be someone who has a credible credit history established in order to obtain any type of financial loans.”

Students can also apply for the Severe Economic Hardship working permission with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services after they have been in the U.S. for at least 9 months. OGA advisers will look at each case and advise students on the very next step to assist students they believe will be successful with the application to obtain the off-campus work permit.

“There’s an application fee that comes with it, so before you even have the ability to earn money, you need to spend some money first,” Kok said. “Our advisers will diagnose the situation to make sure they don’t waste that $300 – $400.”

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