Attending college – especially an elite, private university like Georgetown – is one of the biggest financial investments that a person or family can make. The Georgetown University Board of Directors’ decision last month to approve an increase in undergraduate tuition for the 2009-2010 school year by a mere 2.9 percent – and increase financial aid by up to 18 percent – will no doubt bring relief to many hard-pressed families, especially in these trying times.

Generally speaking, the university’s financial aid policies and scholarship programs have enabled highly motivated students from disadvantaged socioeconomic backgrounds to pursue their dreams on the Hilltop, freed from the specter of insurmountable debt.

Or nearly so. The astonishing truth is that most international students at Georgetown receive either little or no financial support, often in spite of demonstrated financial need. In 2007, only about 3 percent of all colleges awarded scholarships to more than 15 international students out of their respective undergraduate populations; Georgetown was not among them. According to the Institute for International Education, about eight out of 10 international undergraduate students must rely mainly on themselves or their families to fund their U.S. education. Consequently, a Georgetown education is often out of reach for all but the wealthiest international students.

This should worry Georgetown because international students are indispensable on three levels.

International students are among the greatest assets that any institution of higher learning can claim. In an atmosphere of intellectual exchange, international students offer the most unique political, economic and cultural perspectives, enhancing the educational experience. Georgetown takes great pride in educating globally minded students. Short of sending them abroad for a year or a semester, there is perhaps no better way for a university to introduce its students to the world than by bringing the world to its students.

Second, international students contribute to the U.S. economy during their college stay. During the 2007-2008 academic year, foreign students injected more than $15.5 billion into the economy, after factoring in tuition, work and living expenses.

International students often continue to contribute to the economy after graduating. Although most end up returning to their native countries, some foreign students elect to stay and work in the United States when given the opportunity. They create a class of professional immigrants who are among the most productive members of society.

Finally, international students who do return home can provide valuable links to their home countries, as they often adopt and espouse American political and economic ideologies. Students have historically been among the best conveyors of American values, holding far more credibility in their home countries than, say, U.S. diplomats. In the 1970s, for example, Chilean graduates of the University of Chicago were instrumental in convincing Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet to adopt necessary free market reforms, ultimately paving the way for democracy. Some of the most influential and pro-American world leaders – including José Manuel Barroso, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, King Abdullah II – have benefited from studying at Georgetown.

Of course, university spending on financial aid is only one part of a multi-pronged strategy that would ideally involve private foundations and the government taking steps to make studying in the United States more affordable. It is true that Georgetown does not have a multibillion-dollar endowment that might enable it to make financial aid readily available for every international student. But by not funding some of its most talented students from around the world, Georgetown risks losing them to the peer institutions that make them a higher priority. Tough choices will have to be made. Funding international students is not to be viewed as charity; it is, above all, an investment.

Shruti Dusaj is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service from New Delhi, India. Pierre Thompson is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.

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