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ORU international students overcome financial challenges

Aaron Siebler, student association president, says that “when you take action, the rest will come somehow.” When paying off his tuition balance, Siebler found that working hard and seeking help was the best way to solve problems.

Facing a deadline to pay his tuition bill this semester, Aaron Siebler wasn’t just worried about paying his remaining balance. As an international student, being unregistered could mean losing his visa and having to leave the country.


“I reached out to some high administration, and I gave them a summary of my situation and what I was going through,” said Siebler, president of the Student Association at Oral Roberts University and a senior in ministry & leadership. “They said, ‘Hey, we will see what we can do.'”


Siebler wasn’t the only one facing a financial crisis. During the first weeks of the spring 2024 semester, multiple international students found themselves facing a situation that could have forced them to leave the United States. With help from university officials and private donors, however, every international student found ways to raise money and stay on campus, Siebler said.


Siebler received additional scholarship funding that covered part of his unpaid tuition. For the rest, he sought assistance in two ways: through the families he had helped as an au pair and by utilizing GoFundMe.


“I began to help families, and they just began to pay toward my school,” said Siebler.


He got the idea to use GoFundMe from another international student, Beatriz de Albuquerque Oliveira.


“I saw her just stepping on faith,” Siebler said, “and that’s when I said: ‘I’m going to do the same thing.’”


Oliveira, a sophomore in translation and interpreting, had to work two jobs on campus to pay her tuition this semester.


“Emotionally, it was really rough because I knew we didn’t have the money,” Oliveira said. “Then I got the email saying that I had a hold on my account and that I couldn’t register for classes for the spring.”


Oliveria’s decision to create a GoFundMe sparked a domino effect on other students, such as Siebler, who were trying to pay off their balances. Despite help from scholarships and donations, Siebler’s financial struggles were always in the back of his mind.


“You know that at the end of the semester, you have to pay $5,000 or $6,000,” he said. “It gives you a lot of headaches.”


The International Students Center can offer help with a wide range of issues, including the immigration visa process and academic success.


“We will go situation-by-situation, trying to help the students to finalize what they need,” said Grey Hoff, associate vice president for International Student Relations.


Despite the seeming abundance of students racing to meet the registration deadline this semester, Hoff said, it is common.


“I’ve been doing this for 20 years. What actually just happened this spring is not really abnormal,” said Hoff. “This semester, it feels like a lot because I think we really do care about our students. We can feel it.”


The issue can seem bigger at ORU compared to other universities because ORU’s international student population accounts for a higher percentage of the student body, Hoff said.


“I will tell you the complexity and the amount of students that come through this office is much bigger than I have ever seen in any school because the scale and the amount of students,” said Hoff. “Twenty percent of our campus is international. (Other) universities our size are 3% or 4% international.”


The dire consequences for international students not paying off their balances could include having to leave the country. Firstly, students would be dropped from classes if they did not pay by Jan. 29.


However, the university strives to help international students before taking any action, Hoff said.


“We want to listen,” said Hoff. We want to help provide advice. We want to inform them of deadlines. We want to give guidance. We want to see if there are any other options.”


For more information about international student issues, visit the International Student Center on the third floor of the Learning Resource Center, next to Hava-Java.

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