'I called everyone, I talked to everyone but no one replies back'
On the second day of classes, Carolina Hernandez Ruiz, an international student from Spain, opened Blackboard to find that all of her courses had been removed.
Hernandez Ruiz is a second-year student pursuing a major in neuroscience. She is an inclusion assistant in Celani Hall, a teacher's assistant for an honors class and a Spanish tutor. After teaching herself English at 16 years old via movies, she attended Ionia High School for her senior year in Michigan, finishing with a 4.5 GPA in 2021.
Despite being a fully engaged, high-achieving student, a major change to her family’s financial situation and a web of obstacles from the federal government have left Hernandez Ruiz not only struggling to address significant debt, but doing so all alone.
Last spring, her father lost his job, which “changed (their) entire situation.” As a result, she was unable to cover the $15,000 cost of tuition.
Two days after she was removed from her classes, Hernandez Ruiz was informed that because she was no longer enrolled as a student, she had one week – at the time until Sept. 15 – to vacate Celani Hall and her role as inclusion assistant, which gave her free room and board.
Hernandez Ruiz was told by Central Michigan University’s Student Account Services and University Billing (SASUB) that she had received phone calls over the summer, while she was home in Spain, regarding her payment plan; but due to her not responding there was nothing she could do.
“I didn't receive any phone calls because my American phone number doesn't work when I'm out of the country,” Hernandez Ruiz said. “So, they just called me, they never emailed me about anything. That's why I was so surprised about it.
“Decisions have been made about my future, and I was not aware of any of this,” she continued. “I didn't even get an email to let me know that I was going to be dropped from my classes and that I have a week to leave.”
Nevertheless, Hernandez Ruiz has been attending her classes.
“I don't have access to anything," she said. "I have been going to class and just listen[ing] to the lecture, but I cannot do any homework.”
Communication with the university
Immediately after realizing her classes had been removed, Hernandez Ruiz contacted SASUB as well as the International Student Organization to ask for support.
“It's very difficult for me… my parents don't live two hours away, my parents are in another continent," she said. "I have to advocate for myself, do everything by myself."
Hernandez Ruiz said she called SASUB several times but received no response. She decided to go in-person on Aug. 31 but left empty-handed. She scheduled a meeting with the director, Brian Bell, on Sept. 7, but it was postponed due to COVID protocols. She said she wanted the chance to explain that it is her “goal and responsibility to pay my student debt” and created a payment plan to do so.
Director of SASUB, Brian Bell said in an email that he and his office communicated with Hernandez Ruiz the same as they would any other student.
“I spoke with her on the phone multiple times, no one told me to meet with her,” Bell said. “(SASUB) has communicated with her the same as we would any student (meaning multiple times in various ways), been very accommodating to her situation and given her more than ample time and flexibility to meet her end of the agreement to be a student at Central Michigan University.”
Finally, on Sept. 12, Hernandez Ruiz received an extension, until Sept. 22, to move out or submit an initial deposit of $3,500 towards her 2022 fall tuition.
Hernandez Ruiz created a GoFundMe in order to raise money for her tuition. As of deadline, she had raised more than $2,800.
“I am a very hard-working student, and my goal is to continue helping my community, that is why I want to continue studying,” she said. “I only want an opportunity."
As of Sept. 22, Hernandez Ruiz's family took out a $500 loan to accommodate the rest of the funds needed for her tuition, however, she was able to make the deadline and is officially enrolled as a CMU student once again.
Nevertheless, Hernandez Ruiz's payment plan is requiring her to pay $4000 by December. She will be keeping her GoFundMe page up the remainder of the school year to help supplement this payment plan.
"I am very very happy and very grateful," Hernandez Ruiz said in response to the support she has received.
CMU defers to the federal government
Executive Director of University Communications Ari Harris said in an email that CMU must follow certain guidelines provided by the U.S. State Department on matters involving international students.
“International students whose means of support have changed from what they originally provided as part of their admission process are encouraged to contact the Office of Global Engagement to apply for economic hardship under the provisions of the U.S. Department of State," Harris said. "Additionally, they may contact the Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid to apply for a grant through the Student Emergency Fund. They are also encouraged to contact OneCentral to work out a payment arrangement in circumstances when they cannot pay their bill in full.”
Harris said campus offices can help determine whether a student is eligible for an extension before needing to vacate on-campus housing.
“When students face challenges, the Division of Student Affairs, which includes Residence Life, works with campus administrators to minimize disruption to that student’s life on campus, and we care deeply about their success,” she said.
U.S. State Department policy
According to Federal Student Aid, an Office of the U.S. Department of Education, non-U.S. citizens can receive financial aid if:
- You are a U.S national (including natives of American Samoa or Swains Island)
- You are a U.S. permanent resident with a Form I-551, I-151, or I-551C – with a valid green card.
- You have an Arrival-Departure Record (I-94) from U.S. Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) showing as Refugee, Asylum Granted, Cuban-Haitian Entrant or Parolee.
- You hold T nonimmigrant status (victims of human trafficking) or your parents hold a T-1 nonimmigrant status.
- You are a “battered immigrant-qualified alien” who is a victim of abuse by your citizen or permanent resident spouse, or you are a child of a person designated as such under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
- You are a citizen of the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, or the Republic of Palau.
According to the DOE, to qualify for federal student aid, eligible non-U.S. citizens must be able to provide evidence from the USCIS that they are not here for temporary purposes, but with the intention of becoming a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.