UW International students say new fees discriminate

UW international students from China at an event held by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association. (Photo courtesy of CSSA)
An event held by the Chinese Students and Scholars Association to welcome new UW students from China. (Photo courtesy of CSSA)

School may nearly be out for summer, but University of Washington international students are still up in arms about a new fee added to their tuition last fall.

More than 1,300 UW students have signed a petition calling for the repeal of the $45 quarterly fee, which is charged only to international students. 

The fee replaced what was a one-time $75 orientation fee for new international students. That means a $465 increase in the students’ overall four-year tuition costs.

A resolution passed by ASUW (the UW’s student government) in March argued that the fee singles out international students to pay for services that both domestic and international students use.

The UW has attracted a huge numbers of international students in recent years, especially from China. They bring diversity to the campus and the city — but they also bring in a lot of money. According to the UW Admission Office, tuition rates for international students are almost $32,000 a year (roughly the same rate as out-of-state students, plus the new fees), whereas in-state residents pay around $12,000. Tuition rates for all students have risen sharply in recent years, almost doubling over the last decade.

“By imposing the international-student fee, regardless of the amount and the time, UW targets international students as a single group instead of the student body as a whole,” said Xiaoxu Wang, an international student on the student senate who introduced the resolution against the new $45 quarterly fee. Wang is a junior who double majors in economics and environmental studies. She came to the country three years ago from Harbin, China.

The resolution was sponsored by ten student organizations, including the Chinese Students & Scholars Association (CSSA), the Korean Student Union and the Japanese Student Association (Disclosure: The author is an international student and former member of CSSA).

“I don’t think it is fair for international students. Our voice was not heard and respected during the process of the proposal being approved,” Zheng Li, President of CSSA said of the fee.

UW international student Xiaoxu Wang speaks against the new $45 student fee at the March  ASUW meeting. (Photo by Senhao Liu)
Xiaoxu Wang speaks against the new quartely $45 international student fee at the March ASUW meeting. (Photo by Senhao Liu)

According to notes from a meeting of the UW Board of Regents meeting last July 11, 2013, the need for international student services has expanded due to 113.9 percent increase in the number of international enrollment since autumn 2007.

More international students meant more staff to process requests for Curricular Practical Training (a training program related to majors for international students), to staff the Career Center (a campus service for students’ career plan) and FIUTS (a campus organization that helps international students communicate with domestic students), and to handle student misconduct cases, which disproportionately involve international students, the notes said.

The largest portion of money from the new fee goes to FIUTS — The Foundation for International Understanding Through Students — an independent non-profit organization based at UW (Disclosure: FITUS is a Seattle Globalist sponsor). FIUTS gets $250,000 a year from the new fee — $90,000 of that is new funding they weren’t already receiving under the old, one-time-orientation-fee structure.

FIUTS director Era Schrepfer reports that they’ve used the additional funding to add a new staff member to respond to increased demand for their services, including international student orientations and free drop in programs targeted at international students.

No one likes fees, but I believe that the committee identified some very clear needs that were not being funded at adequate levels to provide services that international students need and deserve.” Schrepfer said in an email.

The $45 fee also provides $190,000 to International Student Services for new staff, as well as smaller amounts to the UW Career Center, Division of Student Life, Graduate School, and Center for Teaching and Learning.

“I think it is a good discussion and I am willing to see where it leads,” said Michael Kutz, president of the ASUW said of the resolution opposing the fee. “I think the important thing to consider is whether or not these services [make it] necessary to charge the fee”.

According to my interview with Wang, the student organizations opposing the fee want more information on how the Board of Regents determined the amount. She said that international students will agree to pay a moderate fee for services they use, but they want Board to reconsider that some of those costs should be shared by domestic students.

“The most significant thing revealed by the fee issue is a need for communications between international students and school administrators,” said Wang. “Though encouraging the involvement of international-student community in school affairs will be a challenge, it is something we have to do better”

Wang said that she was moved by the decision made by most students on campus, especially senators from the ASUW who voted for the resolution, because if the fee is reversed, there is a possibility that those costs will be transferred from international students’ tuition to all students’ on campus.

UW is reportedly exploring setting up an international student committee directly responsible to the UW Board, in order to give international students a clearer voice on school affairs in the future.

A final decision on the fee isn’t expected to be taken up by the Board of Regents until next fall. In the meantime, international students will continue paying the fee every quarter.