International MBAs who graduated from Cornell Johnson Graduate School of Management in 2020 face more than the loss of jobs, homes, and everything else they have managed to attain while establishing themselves in the U.S. They also face crippling student debt payments — and a sudden inability to find the quality of employment that would enable them to make the payments.
“A lot of us have private student loans of up to $200K at steep interest rates of 7% and above,” one student tells P&Q. “As international students, we are not eligible for federal loans or have access to cheaper loans. The 6-month post-graduation moratorium ends this month and a lot of us without jobs don’t have the means to pay. Even if one were to relocate to their home countries and find a good-paying job in the current recessionary environment, salary would barely be sufficient to pay monthly loans because of the lopsided forex rates.”
The Johnson School’s two-year residential program was among those with the biggest increases in total cost — tuition plus cost of living — in 2020. A Cornell two-year MBA costs an estimated $199,520, up 11% since 2017; this year or next the school will likely join the 13 in the top 25 where total cost exceeds $200K. Tuition for both the one-year full-time and one-year Tech MBA programs at Cornell is currently $111,402; including fees and using the school’s cost of living estimates, the one-year MBA costs $147K and the Tech MBA $158K.
“My student loan debt is around $120,000,” a one-year MBA graduate tells P&Q. “To do an MBA it goes up to almost as much as $200,000. So your monthly MSN anyway is around $2,000 at most in this scenario. If you relocate back to home countries, I don’t think there’s any job that pays which will let you pay the loan.”
The stress has led to mental health issues, several graduates say. The uncertainty, the possibility of leaving families behind, compounded by Covid isolation “has resulted in increased anxiety and mental health issues for several of us. International students do mentally prepare to face uphill battles with employment visa restrictions and adjusting to a new country when relocating to the U.S. for education. But, the current situation is unprecedented and even our Plan Bs and Cs look difficult to achieve. A lot of us are losing hope of returning to normal life.”
Adds another MBA: “First of all, Covid-19 itself has been tough. People not being able to meet people, being cooped up at home, and stuff on top of it. Now people start questioning their capabilities,: ‘Is it because I’m not good enough that I’m not able to get a job? Is just me, that I’m not good enough?’ Even people who have jobs, a lot of us have to leave our families behind. A lot of us have spouses who are on an H-1B already and their schools have given them stable situations, and then they’re going to stay behind. There’s no way that all of us can be looking backwards, we have to pay the student debt. So we have to leave them behind — that’s another big challenge.”
‘WE FEEL ABANDONED DURING THESE UNPRECEDENTED TIMES’
Dean Nelson says the Johnson School is working with the Class of 2020 MBAs to help them, but declined to answer a followup email question about how. The graduates say after speaking with Nelson recently, they were offered student-level access to career management services, leveraging Cornell international contacts for non-U.S. job leads and non-U.S. mentors, and consultation services with immigration attorneys. But it’s not enough, they say.
“These can never be alternative options for STEM,” one graduate tells P&Q. “Everyone at Cornell will have most of these options anyway.”
Adds another: “Unfortunately, our communications with the school have not yielded any positive results yet. We are also running against time.”
And another: “After repeated appeals/discussions/email exchanges for the last 12 months we feel that the issue is not taken seriously.”
The Cornell Johnson Class of 2020 MBAs say the school has an opportunity to prove that it values its international students. They fear it will prove the opposite.
“Cornell is a little similar to Kellogg in the sense that there’s a big international brand and international population,” one graduate says. “And like Kellogg, Cornell does a lot in China and India as well. So I think that helping us could help in terms of the international branding. Standing with the international community would impact others’ decision-making.
“Cornell was founded to be a place where ‘any person can find instruction,’ and among others, an important core value is ‘A community of belonging.’ We are proud Cornellians for these reasons. But unfortunately, we feel abandoned during these unprecedented times.”