Of 61 Nepalese students whose full scholarships to the University of Texas-Tyler were rescinded earlier this year after an "administrative error," 18 have not yet found places elsewhere.
"The window is closing. We might have a week left, for the United States at least," said Joan Liu, an adviser at United World College, an international high school in Singapore. "I think kids who have not been placed feel desperate."
In December, the students were invited to join the first class of "Presidential Fellows" at UTT and receive scholarships covering all their costs. Instead, four months after the students had accepted, paid fees and received the names of their roommates, UTT rescinded two-thirds of the scholarships in an "administrative error."
By that time in the admissions cycle, most of the students had declined offers from other schools because they had accepted UTT's offer.
Liu, with Brazil-based college counselor Emily Dobson and others, mobilized quickly after hearing of the students' plight in April. The educators used personal and professional connections to help the rejected students find other opportunities.
They spent hours online and on the phone seeking placements for the displaced students. Liu spearheaded the effort, working around the clock to help the students.
"Our favorite hashtag is '#Joangotobed, because it seems like she's up all the time," said Dobson.
Meanwhile, "UT-Tyler did nothing to help us except extend their best wishes, which means nothing at this crucial moment of our lives," said Rupesh Koirala, one of the foreign students. He will attend Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh to study software engineering.
Lucas Roebuck, a UTT spokesman, said the university did what it could.
"We've had people say, 'Hey you should make the funds magically appear,' " said Roebuck. "We took a hard look at our budget, and we went ahead and accommodated 30 [scholarships], which represents in terms of our international spending at least a tenfold increase over the previous year."
Time and funding are running out for the remaining students. The competition for each new spot that opens up is fierce. If a student is offered a place, there's no guarantee that he or she can afford to attend. The placed students cumulatively face about $60,000 in financial gaps.
Liu called the situation an "admissions Hunger Games 2.0," referring to the popular dystopian series in which teens are forced to kill each other for the entertainment of the upper classes.
"It's painful to watch," she said.
UT-Tyler wrote students that they were revoking scholarships because "the popularity of the program was far greater than expected."
"There weren't really appropriate checks and balances put in place for the unexpected demand that we received," said Roebuck.
Other schools, like the University of California-Irvine and Temple University in Philadelphia, have overextended offers in the past.
UC-Irvine rescinded nearly 500 acceptances because of overenrollment in 2017, citing missing paperwork or poor senior grades. In 2016, Temple faced a $22 million financial aid deficit because of an increase in qualifying students. But UC Irvine readmitted most students, and Temple covered the shortfall.
Hard to explain
"With all of the relationships we have with one another, and the national counseling associations, and the admissions meetings, you just don't do that. You wonder how something that big could slip through the cracks," Dobson said of the UT-Tyler situation.
"It was a budgetary oversight," said Roebuck.
"I don't think that they understand the level of pain, hurt, devastation, and jeopardy that they have put these kids into," Liu responded.
Some questioned whether UTT's reversal was politically motivated. While international students bring $36.9 billion to the U.S. economy, colleges and universities are hearing from domestic students and their families who question resources and slots going to foreign nationals.
For example, the University of California system last year capped the number of international students following an outcry from state parents and students.
"Let's take care of our people first before we start handing out to foreigners," Terry Wigley commented regarding a Texas Monthly story about the Nepalese students and UTT. "These colleges offer full ride programs for these foreigners only to educate them to return home and find ways to destroy our western civilization. (Iranians, Muslims, etc.)"
"After the oversight was recognized, it became an economic and political decision," Eddie West, director of international programs at the University of California-Berkeley Extension, said of UTT's decision. "The budget considerations were, 'We don't have these monies at our ready disposal,' whereas the political decision was, 'We can find those monies from elsewhere, or we can tell the Nepali students we can't follow through on our commitment.' "
Roebuck denied that UTT's decision was politically motivated.
"There was no legislator, no regent, no one who came to us and said, 'You can't support that,' or, 'You shouldn't be giving scholarships out.' There was no one externally, or even internally, saying, 'We're anti-international.' It's just not there," he said.
Some of the students have been placed at institutions including the State University of New York's campus in South Korea and Texas Christian University.
Roman Shrestha is headed to the University of Denver. He didn't tell his parents about the roller-coaster ride until he accepted Denver's offer. They listened to him explain the heartbreak, the social media campaign waged by the students, and the "Hunger Games."
They asked him only one question, Shrestha said: "Is the University of Denver better than the University of Texas at Tyler?"
Source: Voice of America