The recent collapse of the American International Group (AIG) has significantly impacted the University’s fifteen-year-old Freeman Asian Scholars program, which was created and largely funded by Mansfield Freeman, one of the original founders of AIG. As a result of the insurance giant’s demise, the Freeman Foundation has cut its contributions to the scholarship program in half, forcing the University to reduce the number of scholarships offered for the class of 2013 from 22 to 11.
“Until this year, there were two Freeman Scholars from each of the eleven countries included in the program, for a total of 22 per class,” said Terri Overton, Associate Dean of Admissions. “This year we expect to enroll just eleven Freeman Scholars, one from each country.”
The Freeman Asian Scholarship—established in the memory of Mr. Freeman in 1994, at the bequest of his family—is directed at bettering the relationship between the United States and East Asia. International students are accepted into the program based on merit, not financial need, and the scholarship covers University tuition for four years. The program’s goal is for Freeman Asian Scholars to become leaders in their home countries.
The program receives funding from the Freeman Foundation and the University, although Overton could not comment about where or how much funding comes directly from the University.
Starting with the class of 2011, the University eliminated the Room and Board scholarship and stipends to maintain the program’s financial viability. According to Overton, the elimination of this portion of the scholarship was not decided on by one person—it was based on concerns of maintaining the full scholarship if it meant that the number of total scholarships given out had to be reduced.
“There were a lot of concerns about whether it was completely important to cover one hundred percent of tuition,” said Overton. “It seemed fairer to us and more in line with Wesleyan’s values.”
According to Overton, the admissions department has not see any noticeable changes in the applicant pool since Room and Board was eliminated, although she recognizes that some international applicants only considered the University when it offered a complete four-year scholarship.
Freeman Scholars can still apply for financial aid to cover the cost of room and board, although some students claim that this deters applicants from applying to the University.
“I think that it really discouraged a lot of people from applying here because of the extra cost,” said junior Freeman Scholar Ohm Khempila. “It’s a lot of paper work to apply for financial aid. I wouldn’t have come here if I had to pay for room and board.”
Overton, however, emphasized the user-friendly qualities of the University’s international student application. Students applying to the Freeman Asian Scholarship fill out the Common Application, as well as a scholarship-specific supplement.
“We are bringing people here who would otherwise not be able to come to college in the United States,” Overton said. “We are trying to make the process as understandable as possible but it is going to take some work if we are going to do this fairly. It’s a pretty big payoff in the end, though.”
According to Roth, more international students applied to the University this year, with increased applicants from South Korea and China.
“Because of the fame of the program a lot more people know about Wesleyan,” he said. “I think our profile internationally has been enhanced.”
The overall number of international students offered admission to the University this year, however, declined.
“The Class of 2012 was a banner year for us with fully 17 percent of that class ‘international’ in some way, if one includes U.S. citizens living abroad and dual U.S.-international citizens, in addition to the standard definition of international,” Overton said.
International students applying to the University are not accepted need-blind. Financial aid for international students comes entirely out of the University’s funds, so each year only nine to twenty international students will receive financial aid. Overton explained that the admissions department separates international student applicants between those students who are applying for financial aid and those who are not.
“The [international] students who need financial aid have a higher bar,” said Overton. “It’s a similar review but we have fewer spots to offer.”
With the majority of international students paying full tuition, it allows the University to give out more financial aid to needy American students. Many universities and colleges around the country have similar guidelines in place, including Middlebury and Bowdoin.
“Most schools are not need-blind internationally,” Roth said. “We have never been one of them. We have a limited amount of financial aid for international students.”
With the recent decline in endowment, the number of international students receiving financial aid will decrease, beginning with the Freeman Scholars program. For the class of 2013, only one student from each of the eleven countries will receive the scholarship.
“It means fewer opportunities for many youngsters in East Asia who would otherwise not be able to receive a first class American education,” said Freeman Scholar Andy Zhou ’10. “The loss of eleven scholarships probably means the loss of eleven agents of change, eleven good men and women who are for the betterment of the lives of their countrymen, world peace and understanding.”
The implications of the program’s reduction are far-reaching in the way the program operates and its perception by current international students.
“I heard some people complain that those international students must be well off because they are paying for room and board,” said Freeman Scholar Ohm Khempila ’10.
Overton has experienced very little feedback on the recent cuts. Freeman Scholars feel that it is important to stay positive through all of these changes.
“If it is inevitable that in the near future the scholarship shall be reduced to zero, we, the Freeman Scholars ourselves, shall strive to keep it alive,” said Zhou. “What we really need to do is to make a positive impact on the lives of our fellow human beings, so that it will more evident that education is the soundest investment and the most reliable endowment.”
President Roth is hopeful that the program will be able to continue in its current form in the future, unless some unforeseeable problem occurs.
“They [the Freeman family] are committed to continuing the program and we are committed to helping them do so,” said Roth. “It’s been a very good program for the Wesleyan community.”