The cost of being an international student at PSU

International tuition carries Portland State’s most expensive price tag. But students weigh inis it worth the cost?


According to its website, PSU is Oregon’s most affordable public research university, providing immigration advising, life advising, programming and support for more than 2,000 international students from nearly 100 different countries. Despite PSU’s affordability, some international students think their tuition fee is very costly, and they have different perspectives regarding the student resources and outreach given by the university, based on their personal experience. 


“Tuition is a lot for international students; it is usually $7,000 to $10,000 per term,” said Mercedeh Farrokhi, an international student from Iran. “I think it is impossible to pay it out of pocket if you’re not on different scholarships, and I’ve been lucky that I’ve got four different scholarships to pay off my tuition.” 


On what drove her to choose to study at PSU, Farrokhi said “I got to see the campus and the people are really sweet here.” Farrokhi is also a mentor for the Freshman Inquiry and the leader of the Iranian Association of PSU. 


Matteo Fortini, an international student-athlete from Italy studying supply chain and logistics, has  a full scholarship to play on the PSU tennis team. 


“Fortunately, I got a full scholarship and if I didn’t have it, I would be studying in Italy,” Fortini said. 


Fortini chose PSU because he wanted to experience something different out of his country and, for him, “it was a good opportunity to play [the] sport while studying.” However, for Fortini, being an international student athlete comes with a concern: “I can’t take more than one online class. Sometimes it’s hard because I travel a lot with my team, competing in other cities and states.”


Fortini’s teammate, Nikola Dmitrijevic, a transfer international student from Serbia, said: “I couldn’t play tennis at my previous school, so I decided to transfer.” Dmitrijevic does not get a full scholarship from playing tennis, and uses a number of other scholarships in order to cover tuition.


Christina Luther, the director of international student and scholar services international affairs office, said, “International students are eligible for scholarships around the university, but most of [the scholarships] are restricted to just United States citizens, so sometimes it’s hard for international students to get funding.” 


In reference to international funding, Farrokhi shared her struggle of being an international student. She experienced a financial crisis last term because one of her scholarships ended, requiring her to petition to obtain another scholarship, which succeeded. 


According to the PSU website, the U.S. immigration regulations require undergraduate international students to complete 12 credits per quarter which cost around $4,230 for undergraduates, with an additional $1,410 per term for health insurance. Students who live on campus pay an average of $16,869 for housing annually.


An Oregon resident taking 12 credits during the 2019–20 academic year pays just over $2,100 in tuition, $500 in student fees and an $890 insurance premium if the student did not provide proof of an equivalent health insurance policy.


Luther explained the additional charge for insurance is due to Oregon law, which requires students to have health insurance. However, if a student can prove they have an insurance policy equal to or greater than the one PSU provides, they may opt to waive PSU’s insurance, thus waiving the $1,410 charge.


“For me, I think international students are the most neglected segment at PSU,” said an anonymous PSU international student. “We have so many issues but no one is really fighting for us. Many people have left the school because they missed a payment and some of the students are fighting to stay here. We need better policy and equal rights and opportunities at PSU.”


“It’s heartbreaking, it’s really heartbreaking,” Luther said in response to the anonymous student’s statement. “I’ve been working in this office for almost 22 years and I’ve devoted my entire career to support international students, making sure that they have a smooth path at [PSU].”


“I know that it’s very very expensive for international students,” Luther said. “But a part of the student obligation who wants to apply for an F1 Visa, is to show that they have sufficient funding to study here, so the expense should really not come as a surprise.”


The International English Language Testing System (IELTS) exam is an English language proficiency test required by some U.S. colleges and universities for international applicants. While PSU does not require the IELTS, it does require “valid proof of English language proficiency.” Meeting the minimum IELTS criteria is accepted by PSU as valid proof of English proficiency.


For international students who did not meet the minimum criteria of the IELTS exam or other English language proficiency requirements, the Intensive English Learning Program (IELP) is here to help international students improve their English before they begin their academic career at PSU. 


Students enrolled in IELP are still able to utilize campus resources such as the library, computer labs and the recreation center, as well as join student clubs and live in residence halls.


“The IELP has quite a lot of services specifically for international students who are learning English as a second language,” Luther said. “They have a conversation partner program, they’ve got tutors, mentors and a learning lab for students to practice their English.”


Farrokhi took the IELTS exam, but didn’t meet the minimum criteria and was encouraged to enroll in IELP.


 “It wasn’t a huge change in my language, because it was only for one term,” Farrokhi explained. “[IELP] was a lot of money too, I paid around $6,000 for one term only for language course.”


Like Farrokhi, Fortini had to take IELP courses due to his language barrier, but for two terms. 


“I had to take English courses before I started taking PSU classes,” Fortini said. “At first I thought it was boring, but if I look back, it was very helpful because my English improved a lot.” 


“I think that I have enough points for IELTS…so I don’t have to take it and they didn’t encourage me,” Dmitrijevic said about his own experience with IELTS.


Despite its high cost, Fortini spoke of a benefit of IELP.


“Sometimes I receive emails from PSU and I see that they organize activities,” Fortini said. “So I think they’re pretty cool because many times international students come here and they don’t have friends, those activities gave them opportunities to meet new people.” 


Farrokhi also thought the IELP is a useful outreach for students,


“It was helpful, not in the way it helped my English, but it helped me to learn about different resources on campus,” she said. “I work with the office of international students, therefore, I see a lot of people reaching out to me, making sure I have the right resources.”


“Our international office is the only international student specific resource,” Luther said. “But all the other student resources provided by PSU are available for them such as student health and counseling, student legal services, women resource center.”


Seonah Choi, an international student from South Korea, said there are a lot of interesting classes that the university offers, such as Queer studies, which she could not find in her previous school in Ansang, South Korea. 


Joana Isimbi, an MBA international student from Rwanda, chose PSU specifically because the business program had the best curriculum and professors. She also said that the university has a lot of diverse students from different countries which allow her to get different perspectives and insights in her classes.


Nya Mbock, an international affairs director of the Association Students of Portland State University from Cameroon, said the student-led organization is a tool for students to get information regarding student services and provide contacts to which international students can reach out. 


“Me and my international committee are working with different multicultural resource centers,” Mbock said. “We encourage international students to come to our meeting so they have a space to voice their concerns that they have.”


Mbock continued: “I have a few international students reaching out to me, there was a student [this winter term] who, her housing was in the air and she didn’t really know what to do going forward and I wanted to be a sounding board for her.”


After the student voiced their concerns, Mbock reached out to the International Department to find options for the student. 


Harina Ainaga, an international student from Indonesia who is studying criminal justice, said “international students are shy to reach out to the department.”


Mbock and the international committee are working to improve the peer mentor program in the international office because it would create outreach opportunities for students who need help.


“Peer mentors would help a lot for international students so they can integrate into a group of people where the differences wouldn’t be so startling,” Mbock said about enabling international students to connect with one another.  


Luther also mentioned the coronavirus in the interview and how it has impacted some international students, especially those who are from China.


“We have our second largest population of students from China and they’re experiencing a tremendous amount of hardships because their family who are supporting them, haven’t been able to work for the last four or six weeks, so they are unable to send money to them.” 


“I’ve reached out to them,” Luther said. “I’ve sent them emails to let them know that we’re here and if they’re experiencing challenges they should reach out to me or the other advisors. I’ve also reached out to a number of offices for remision money so that we’re ready if there’s a student who is unable to pay. I’ve nominated four of our Chinese students scholarships for the spring team from a national organization of international education.”