When Ricardo Pereira ’16 submitted his financial aid forms for the first time, the exchange rate between his home currency, the Brazilian real, was 2.6 to one U.S. dollar (USD). By the time he had to pay his tuition bill in the fall, the real had decreased in value, to a rate of approximately 3.5 per USD.
Suddenly, Pereira was faced with a bigger bill than he had expected.
Kenyon requires that bills be paid and financial aid forms filled out in U.S. dollars, so international students must add up their parents’ income and other financial information and convert that number from their home currency to USD. World currencies fluctuate in value relative to each other. Strong currencies like the USD or the euro hold value while weaker currencies are traded in increments that rise and fall depending on political and economic conditions.
A fall in the value of the Brazilian real relative to the USD doesn’t mean Brazilians get paid more — it means people like Pereira must come up with the difference to pay their bills.
Julieanna Luo ’17, of Beijing, said her parents convert her tuition payment from Chinese renminbi to USD up to a year in advance, in anticipation of changing exchange rates. Additionally, her government places limits on how much renminbi her family may exchange in a year.
Pereira said the act of conversion itself is a hassle, and a cost. In addition to his tuition and fees, his family must pay taxes on the money they move out of the country and the cost of wiring money from Brazil to the U.S.
Director of Financial Aid Craig Daugherty said this is a problem that also affects some domestic students, but Kenyon does not make adjustments based on taxes.
The financial aid office was understanding of Pereira’s situation, he explained, and gave him a grace period on paying his tuition, as well as offering additional loan support to make up the difference. While this meant he was able to pay his bills, it ultimately meant he had to take on more debt.
Daugherty said this is not a common problem and that only a handful of students come to his office each year to discuss additional aid or grace periods on their tuition payments. He encourages international students to discuss the issue with their families, and recognizes that such a situation would mean an increased debt load. He could not recall an international student ever having to leave Kenyon due to fluctuation in exchange rates, and explained that students do not typically have to pay a large additional amount.
The financial aid package for an international student typically looks very similar to that of a domestic student, with the exception of the loans that American students typically receive from the federal government, Daugherty explained.
“I certainly believe in minimizing loan debt,” Daugherty said. He encourages students to work with their families and do what they can to make up the difference. “Loans are kind of a last resort, but they are, certainly, a resort.”
Daugherty said he has not seen a rise in international students needing assistance due to this specific problem, but Campus Senate co-chair Colin Cowperthwaite ’18 would like to help students facing this issue. Earlier this year, Cowperthwaite was approached by a student who was facing financial difficulties related to currency exchange.
“Tuition fluctuates throughout the year, there’s only one fixed tuition that you pay over the whole course of the year, and a lot can happen in eight months,” Cowperthwaite said.
Cowperthwaite recently held a meeting with the Office of Admissions to discuss the plight of students facing larger bills, and he plans to work in the future with Campus Senate and admissions on a possible solution.
With the increasing numbers of international students attending Kenyon, Pereira said he would like to see more attention paid to this problem. He believes solving the issue by making international students take on more loans to make up the difference is not a sustainable solution.
“In the short run, that’s good,” Pereira said of his own experience with loans. “But in the long run I’ll still have to pay it, and I don’t know how the exchange rate is going to look.’’