Financial Aid for Vietnamese Students?

financial aid

If your institution awards financial aid to Vietnamese students, I hope your approach is of the “trust but verify” variety.  Not all parents and students are honest, and Viet Nam is no exception.  Many people of means are happy to game the system and accept financial aid, if they can get it.

I remember a story about a highly selective liberal arts college in the US, which shall remain unnamed to protect the victimized, that awarded a generous financial aid package to a Vietnamese student.  Once said student showed up on campus, other Vietnamese knew that her family was rich and that the school had wasted valuable financial aid funding on an undeserving student.  The result was loss of institutional face and resources that could have helped a deserving student.  

Another more recent story is about a state university that automatically awarded a certain amount of financial aid to ALL Vietnamese students, as if all Vietnamese were poor and deserved it.  No due diligence.  Apply, get admitted and, bingo!, you’re golden.  Again, a waste of financial aid dollars that could have gone to qualified and deserving students.

What To Do?

How to screen students?  I remember working with one boarding school that offered a fabulous scholarship at their school and an undergraduate education at any university in the world.  They were looking specifically for an economically disadvantaged yet high-achieving Vietnamese high school student.  The selection process included sending staff to the finalists homes to interview them and their parents, and also to make sure they weren’t living in a million-dollar home or driving a luxury automobile.  Seeing is believing, to a certain extent, and it worked.

This due diligence is likely to incur an additional cost, given the staff time involved.  That’s something institutions should keep in mind. 

Some colleagues attempt to obtain this information from the education agents they work with.  That requires a high degree of trust, which is not always present.  

The safer and less costly alternative is to stick to merit-based scholarships that are linked to objective criteria such as standardized test scores, high school GPAs, and interviews.  The one drawback is that urban students from higher social classes disproportionately benefit from this approach.

Shalom (שלום), MAA

P.S.:  I wrote about this issue three years ago.  Given what I’ve heard recently from various colleagues, it’s worth revisiting.  

Financial Aid: Don’t Trust, Verify!

financial aidTaking the theme of gaming the system and running with it,  there is also the issue of financial aid and how to determine need, which becomes much more difficult once you begin evaluating international student applications.

There are schools that award some type of financial aid to all admitted Vietnamese students.  Others, especially the more selective institutions with healthy endowments that wish to assist qualified students who could not otherwise afford the high cost of their education, also award millions of dollars in financial aid.  Essentially and to put it bluntly, these schools are looking for smart, poor kids.  They are out there but it’s bit like mining for gold.  You need to sift through a lot of ore to find the nuggets of gold.  (As in other countries, including the US, there is a strong correlation between opportunity and social class.)

What happens a school makes a mistake, i.e,. awards financial aid to a smart, rich kid?  1)  The school could lose face because other students from the same country may know about the newbie’s parents and their wealth, which means the joke is on the school; and 2) it’s a waste of the school’s precious resources, which could have benefited a truly qualified and deserving student.

verifyThe bottom line is that even many wealthy parents want scholarships and financial aid for their children.  Why?  Bragging rights and a way of defraying the cost even, if money is no object.

As you may have already surmised, based on the title of this post, my advice is to verify not trust.  By that I mean perform your due diligence and find someone honest and reliable on the ground to get the scoop.  This would include, for example, a visit to the student’s home because seeing is believing, to some extent.  This exercise will save your institution money and the embarrassment of having a scholarship recipient show up on campus who other students from the same country know is not deserving of a need-based scholarship, to put it mildly.