University of Oklahoma

Evans Hall at the University of Oklahoma Norman campus

Friday is the last day to enroll in classes at the University of Oklahoma for the spring semester. For some international students on student visas, it’s the last day to ensure that they get to stay in the country.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 18 students have financial holds on their accounts and for them the clock is ticking.

Until the financial holds have been lifted, students cannot enroll. All that has to be done to remove the hold is for the students to pay their balance, but for some that’s not a possibility, at least not by Friday.

One such individual, a senior who spoke to the Transcript on the condition of anonymity, said she was not aware of the looming scenario. Now, she told OU Daily she has just days to come up with $20,000. She said she has reached out to the financial office, her advisor, the College of International and Area Studies, Registrar Matt Hamilton and OU President James Gallogly.

She said nobody has offered her or her fellow international students a solution. Borrowing money, she said, is more difficult for international students because they cannot access federal funding.

“We’re going to pay the money; we just need time,” she said. “There are people who can’t pay the balance all at once. They need time and we don’t have time.”

She said because students must be enrolled in 12 credit hours, failure to enroll could result in the termination of student visas, and possible deportation.

“If our visas get terminated and we don’t get deported we could still have to leave the country to apply for a new visa and that may not get approved,” she said.

She said the situation also could prevent affected international graduates from participating in a program that allows them to stay in the United States for a year to practice in their field.

OU Vice President of Marketing and Communications Lauren Brookey said the university has made every effort to inform students of their financial situation and the rules regarding enrollment.

She said, as of Oct. 8, 6,500 students had financial holds. She said the university notified those students that they would have to pay their balance to enroll. She said that notice was repeated at the end of the month from October to January and students were notified of their outstanding balances at the middle of every month.

She said the university currently has 454 individuals with holds on their account. Of those, 18 are international students. Brookey said only one has requested some sort of exemption or extension.

“We had over 6,000 students who had holds on their accounts because they hadn’t paid their bills,” she said. “We now have less than 500. The question, in the face of that, is what can you do for individual students?”

The question, Brookey said, is one of fairness.

“The challenge, of course, is treating one outstanding account differently than another,” she said. “As it stands right now, we do not have a blanket approach for helping any student with an outstanding account.

“We are looking to see if there are accounts that donors might have established to support international students that might be able to be accessed. We’re not sure that’s possible, but [our development office] is researching that right now. That’s really the only remedy we have available to us.”

Mack Burke

mburke@normantranscript.com

follow me @mackburke4

Mack Burke is an investigative reporter and award-winning feature writer and columnist for The Norman Transcript. An OU alumnus, he has lived in Norman since 2003.