Wartburg students enrolled in the 2020-21 Fall, Winter and May Terms will have the opportunity to enroll in a tuition-free fifth year. 

The opportunity may be harder to attain for some students, though, such as international students.

Ryan Keel, a fourth-year computer science major from Eswatini, was hoping to take part in the tuition-free fifth year that was announced in a July 27 email from Dr. Darrel Colson, Wartburg College president.

“I just think that internships weren’t pressed that hard in my major, which I would have loved it to be, because the gap and the pace that you need to catch up on between college and actual working experience is supposedly intense,” Keel said.

While all students are technically eligible for the tuition-free fifth year, international students face significant challenges when it comes to taking advantage of this opportunity. To participate in a fifth year of schooling in the U.S., international students would need to get a visa renewal.

“We will offer every student who enrolls full-time in both the Fall and the Winter/May Terms of this year [2020-21] the opportunity to return to the college for a fifth year without paying tuition,” the email from Colson said.

Photo courtesy of Wartburg College.

“I guess [international students] could potentially take part in the fifth year—If students were able to get an extension or renewal, but that rarely happens, if ever,” Edith Waldstein, vice president for enrollment management, said. “There might be extraordinary circumstances where the government would extend their visa, like an emergency or medical issue, but I don’t want to get anybody’s hopes up for that when it’s very unlikely that it will happen.”

In order to participate in the tuition-free fifth year at Wartburg, students must be enrolled full-time for the entirety of the 2020-2021 academic year. Regular housing policies also apply, so students will have to stay on campus with a board meal plan. Students who want to live off-campus will have to follow the same application guides that are in place now, and those applications will undergo the normal review process. Tuition will be paid for, but room and board, as well as other fees, are not included.

According to U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), The Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) uses the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS) to track and monitor schools, exchange visitor programs, and nonimmigrants while they participate in the U.S. education system.

Keel had been advised by his advisors, Dr. Terry Letsche and Zafrul Amin, to build a strong case advocating for his academic gain and apply for a SEVIS extension. Before an international student can apply for an F1 student visa renewal, their school must approve the renewal of their SEVIS ID.

“When you come to the US for college you’ll get a SEVIS visa that ranges from one year to five years, and the college has to approve the extension in order to get more time,” Keel said. “After that gets approved by the college, that’s when the government gets involved.”

The tuition-free fifth year had student-athletes, musicians and students active in on-campus organizations in mind when created, according to Waldstein. 

“We were thinking about all of the students that were so sad about missing out on co-curricular activities,” Waldstein said. “We weren’t really thinking about it in financial terms or financial hardships for students.”

Since most scholarships from Wartburg are only valid for four years, international students must rely only on benefactors and out-of-pocket payments to cover the cost of room and board and other fees if they participate in the tuition-free fifth year.

“Without the scholarships provided by the college and benefactors, the cost of living on campus is almost impossible to pay off with the wage and amount of hours that international students are restricted to work on campus,” Keel said. Due to visa restrictions, international students can only work on-campus jobs. 

Students depending on federal student aid must have a graduation requirement to be fulfilled during the fifth year. This means that students wanting to take advantage of financial aid or athletics must have at least one course requirement left uncompleted by the end of their fourth year at Wartburg. Students who graduate upon the completion of their fourth school year are not eligible for college athletics or federal financial aid.

The tuition-free fifth year is still in the works and an application process is still being created.

“We don’t even exactly know yet, what the sign-up process might be,” Waldstein said. “We don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like, but I’m sure it will be pretty simple. Students who are less than seniors, they have a lot of time to think about it, and students who are seniors are probably so busy that they haven’t really thought about it yet.”







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