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Students Given Full Scholarships Told It Was a Mistake

For many international students, being accepted to school in the U.S. and getting a full scholarship is like winning the lottery.

Maybe better.

"It is my sincerest honor to congratulate you on earning the Presidential Fellow scholarship," wrote Michael Tidwell, president of University of Texas-Tyler, to 100 scholars in Nepal in December. "This means our university and hopefully your new home for the next four years is taking care of tuition, fees, housing, meal plan, and books!

"Yes, I'm serious!"

Apparently, not really. A few months later, UT-Tyler rescinded most of the full-ride scholarships, saying that "due to extraordinary demand for this year's Fellows program, our scholarship requests exceeded the amount budgeted for this year.

"As a result, funds for the Presidential Fellows program are no longer available, and we will not be able to offer you the Presidential Fellows scholarship. We initially thought we could include you as a Fellow this year, but the popularity of the program was far greater than expected."

Ouch. Not only was this a financial issue, but this kind of news so late in the acceptance cycle has left the students with few options.

"I feel very sad," honors student Roshan Poudel told VOA. "I feel depressed. I was making plans."

When he first received his acceptance letter, it took a minute for him to appreciate the enormity of the scholarship offer, he said.

"You have until March 1" to pay a $100 deposit to confirm, the university wrote, which Poudel paid promptly. An email February 1 with the word "APPROVED" in big letters arrived, confirming his deposit. Roommates were assigned and their names were sent to him. Another email arrived March 29, inviting Poudel to the honors program and asking him to mark his calendar for an orientation session.

But Friday, April 13, came an email marked, "URGENT: Please read ... "

The university had erred and was offering a far lesser scholarship, called the Patriot, worth $5,000. The university also offered Poudel and other Nepalese students in-state tuition of $17,000 a year.

The email could not have been more stunning. While Poudel comes from Pokhara, a beautiful city on Phewa Lake in central Nepal, his father earns $500 a month. His mother "cried when I got the scholarship, and she cried when I got the scholarship revoked." She wants him to stay in Nepal now, not trusting the U.S. will take proper care of her son.

"We had a perfect storm of things," said Lucas Roebuck, UTT chief communications officer. "We were completely unprepared. ... The idea that hundreds of people would apply was new to us. ... It was a SNAFU." SNAFU is shorthand for a situation that has been fouled up.

More than 1 million international students are studying in the U.S., with nearly half of them coming from China and India. In the past few years, Nepal � a small country of 30 million people living among the peaks of the Himalaya mountains � sent more than 11,000 students from Chitwan, Humla, Pokhara, Jhapa, Nawalparasi, Bara, Dang and other places to study in the U.S.

Roebuck explained that UTT had made offers to about 100 scholars from Nepal, upping the Nepalese representation at his school from 10 Nepalese undergrads and 20 graduate students. UTT expected what is known as "melt," or some international students not accepting the offer in favor of other schools or programs.

But that didn't happen. And the budget did not allow for all those who accepted. So UTT made the cuts, leaving around 30 accepted full-ride students with far lesser offers than what had been announced months earlier. Roebuck said the school understands the students' anguish.

"I didn't initially believe the news that UT Tyler had canceled scholarships," Joan Liu � adviser at United World College (a high school) in Singapore � wrote to VOA in an email. "In my 20 years in admission, I have never seen a U.S. institution do this. It was beyond my comprehension."

Liu described the situation for the students as "complicated and chaotic."

"They are not American students. If they were, they could file a lawsuit and there could be litigation," she wrote. "UT Tyler put them in a situation where there was detrimental reliance on a scholarship they did not deliver."

Poudel and other students orphaned by the foul up took their case to social media and have asked UTT to make good on their original offer. Advisers and schools have reached out, trying to find a spaces and scholarships for the remaining 32 students whom UTT could not admit. The University of Akron, College of Idaho, Robert Morris University, State University of New York, Drake University and Eastern Mexico Central University have all stepped up to the plate to offer help to the students. Poudel says he will likely take a slot with a SUNY campus in South Korea.

While Poudel, who describes himself as "a constant learner" on his Twitter page, is disappointed, he is also gracious about the experience.

"I have learned some lessons. But this has made me a better person," he said. "In a sense, I am thankful to UT Tyler."

Adviser Liu was less sanguine.

"This is a shame, an absolute shame, because these kids are extremely high-achieving students. You can imagine what a turnaround this is for a teenager who has been aspiring to come to the U.S. for several years," she wrote.

Source: Voice of America