Strong international student enrollment supported by Whitman’s financial aid commitment

Tejashree Jadhav, Staff Reporter

Whitman’s promise of diversity in student nationalities has led to a rise in international student enrollment over the past decade, buttressed by the college’s policy to meet international students’ full financial need.

Ten years ago, Whitman had seven incoming first year international students; in 2019, there were 49 — the highest number on record. In Fall 2020, international enrollment dropped down to 38 — still the second-highest mark on record.

During this time period, Whitman’s acceptance rate for international students has ranged from 12% to 22%. The college’s overall acceptance rate has also increased from 41% to 56%.

According to the Admissions Office, COVID-19 has reduced international student applications: 1,419 students applied before the pandemic, and 1,280 students applied for this academic year.

However, international student enrollment going into next year will still remain relatively robust.

“30 international students have committed to attend Whitman next Fall, so it looks like we’re on track for another strong year in terms of international enrolment,” Director of Admission Adam Miller wrote in an email to The Wire.

Angel Baikakedi, a first year international student from Botswana who intends to major in economics, said the guidance she received from the Admissions and International Students Offices led to her decision.

“The support I received before coming here was a big factor [in] me joining Whitman because we were in difficult times,” Baikakedi said.

Another major reason for international students’ attraction to Whitman is the college’s policy to meet the full financial need of international students.

“This makes Whitman among the most generous colleges in the country in terms of financial aid for international students,” Miller said. “[This policy] has led to an increasing number of international applicants with high financial need, and, therefore, a higher selectivity for international students who qualify for financial aid.”

The college meets students’ needs by a combination of grants, scholarships and preferential on-campus employment. 

“International students are not eligible for federal loans, so in meeting their financial need we replace the loan expectation we have for domestic students with scholarship funding from Whitman College,” Director of Financial Aid Marilyn Ponti said. 

These grants come in different forms. Students who graduated from United World Colleges receive a grant from the Davis Foundation via the Davis UWC Scholars program. 

Zakir Hussain, a first-year international student from Pakistan, is a UWC Dilijan graduate. The two factors that contributed to Hussain’s decision to join Whitman were a generous financial aid package and the option of a combined astronomy and physics major.

“Whitman provides me financial aid in the form of [an] international students scholarship, Davis financial aid … and that covers for most of it,” Hussain said. “As a UWC alumnus, the Davis Scholarship covers about 15% of the total award I get.”

To apply for financial aid, Hussain had to fill out a College Scholarship Service profile. The financial aid based on this profile gets reevaluated every year. The deadline to fill the application for this year is April 15.

Hussain expressed his concern that even a one to two percent decrease in financial aid could make things difficult for him. 

Every year, the college goes through a budgeting process led by Chief Financial Officer Peter Harvey. There is no financial cap on the aid that international students receive but it has to be balanced with other costs that the college is responsible for. Miller, at the Admissions Office, said the college’s financial aid plan is unique among its peers. 

“The financial aid commitment Whitman has made with its international students is truly remarkable,” Miller said. 

This commitment leads many international students to see Whitman as a place at which they want to spend their next four years. According to Baikakedi, the college looked like a welcoming place for international students.

“Whitman seemed like a place where I could find a community that I could be part of,” she said.

Angel Baikakedi is an opinion writer for The Wire.