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OPINIONS

Financing the World

CORRECTION: A previous version of this column said that Stanford did not offer financial aid to international students. Stanford does offer financial aid to international students, but it is not need-blind during the application process. The column has been updated to reflect this.

 

In 2002, William Kamkwamba used bicycle parts, blue gum tree and scraps to build a windmill in his village in Malawi. Only fifteen, William nevertheless managed to use the windmill to power several electrical appliances in his village. What is striking is that because of William’s lack of money, if William had applied to Stanford he would have been at a disadvantage from the start.

Without financial aid, William’s inability to pay the full $42,000 would essentially disqualify him from attending Stanford, and moreover, that financial aid is not a given. Despite our $18 billion endowment, we still do not have need-blind admissions for international students, even though other top-tier universities such as Harvard do.

Eleven percent of the undergraduate population at Stanford are international students, many of whom have had to some degree to find alternative ways of funding their educations. Although Stanford does not provide information on the number and source of its international applications, it is evident that an increase in financial aid would undoubtedly make Stanford an option for more students across the world.

This marginalization of disadvantaged international students seems to be a rightable wrong. Princeton, Harvard, Yale and Dartmouth are all schools of a comparably high caliber and financial standing that admit international students on a need-blind basis. For this reason it is genuinely surprising that despite the fact that Stanford – routinely the best fundraiser in higher education – raised a record $1 billion dollars last year, it has yet to open itself up to financing opportunities for international students without Social Security numbers.

Our university has been widely characterized in popular media as being a “Get Rich U” that feeds the machine of innovation that is Silicon Valley. William is a perfect example of the type of positive outcome that can come from the Stanford blend of engineering, ingenuity and enterprise in developing countries. Many areas of the world are far worse off than the United States and are in real need of the type of innovation and technical expertise upon which the Valley prides itself.

Armaan Ali characterizes the potential good that can come of this kind of technological spread. Armaan is a current sophomore and international student at Stanford; over the summer, he worked on an organization that brought cheap health care technology to those in need in Bangladesh and Pakistan. Visiting Armaan, I had the chance to visit Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh, and the reality of the Dhakan poor is truly astounding. Dhaka, far from the airy hills of Palo Alto, is grossly overpopulated and its infant mortality rate is five and a half times higher than that of the United States. By bringing low-cost technology such as jaundice-fighting light bulbs to the area, Armaan and his colleagues opened up the possibility of saving literally thousands of lives.

Stanford is not the only university whose students help people across the globe. But certainly there is a lot that students at well-heeled universities such as Stanford take for granted that could mean the difference between life and death for millions of people around the world. The education that we get here is incredible and could have lasting impacts on developing countries. Exchange programs are useful, but spending four affordable years at Stanford would be far more important and far more meaningful for someone trying to learn skills that will eventually save lives where they live.

I think it is important to try to foster the connection between what is going on here and what is taking place around the world. It is easy, when trying to come up with the “next big thing,” to forget that half of the world’s population survives on less than $3 a day. We must commit ourselves to helping bridge the gap by admitting more students from international backgrounds who would otherwise miss out on the unique opportunity that is Stanford.

This is but one of the reasons for which I believe that admitting more international students who come from disadvantaged backgrounds will yield great fruit. Appealing to the culture of Silicon Valley, empirically speaking, immigrants are disproportionately likely to become entrepreneurs: think Elon Musk, Sergei Brin, and Jan Koum. Immigrants, according to Forbes magazine, founded more than 40% of the Fortune 500 companies. Naturally, not every international student is going to come straight to university, found a company or take up American citizenship, but the point remains: international students embody some of the core ideals of our university.

William Kamkwamba, whose ingenuity should have been welcomed by any university on the planet, ended up at Dartmouth University. We are truly missing out on an incredible opportunity to render our campus more diverse and serve the entire world. Let’s make sure that the next generations of global entrepreneurs are given a chance to try their hands on The Farm. By working together I believe we can convince the University administration to give this policy a second look.

Contact Anthony Ghosn at anghosn@stanford.edu.