Bud Kennedy

'TCU is saving their lives': Cheated by UT Tyler ethics scandal, students come to Fort Worth

Honor student Kundan Chaudhary wrote "Lots of love from Nepal" with this photo after TCU gave him a scholarship. UT Tyler had money trouble and couldn't make good on more than 50 scholarships.
Honor student Kundan Chaudhary wrote "Lots of love from Nepal" with this photo after TCU gave him a scholarship. UT Tyler had money trouble and couldn't make good on more than 50 scholarships. http://www.twitter.com/kundan_711

The University of Texas system robbed 63 students.

But TCU and Fort Worth are helping make it right.

When UT Tyler ran low on money and couldn't honor full scholarships it had long ago promised to high-scoring Nepalese students, TCU and other American universities stepped up at the last minute to rescue their college dreams.

"This university appeared like an angel for me," Kundan Chaudhary, 19, wrote by email from Kathmandu.

He is one of two Nepalese students joining TCU's freshman class on full scholarship this fall as universities worldwide pitch in to help after what Washington-based "Inside Higher Ed" called one of the worst scandals in the history of college admissions.

UT Tyler awards full scholarships based solely on high test scores. Last fall, the university awarded more than 200 scholarships, and university president Michael Tidwell sent the Nepalese students letters saying plainly: "It is my sincerest honor to congratulate you on earning the Presidential Fellow scholarship. This means our university and hopefully your new home for the next four years is taking care of your tuition, fees, housing, meal plan, and books! Yes, I'm serious!"

He wasn't.

The students, mostly from poor Nepalese families earning about $4,000 a year, scrambled to send in their $100 confirmation fees, $150 housing deposits and visa applications.

Then, on April 13, Nepalese New Year's Eve, the students received a drop-dead email.

Scholarships "exceeded the amount budgeted," the email read, and funds "are no longer available." About 50 students were offered smaller grants that would have left their families paying thousands.

Twisting the knife, a university spokesman told newspapers "We regret the inconvenience" but went out of his way to say that no East Texas students were losing scholarships.

"We felt like the international students didn't matter to them," wrote Sabina Khanal of Lamjung, Nepal, the other freshman coming to TCU instead of UT Tyler.

Joan Liu, a Singapore-based adviser who helps match talented students with universities, said via Skype that she didn't even believe it at first.

"I told her, 'That can't be true,' " Liu said. " 'An American university would never do this.' "

UT Tyler violated higher-education ethics codes, according to admissions officials quoted by the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a statement, UT System officials in Austin blamed the Tyler campus and even added that UT, an $18 billion system, is "profoundly grateful to other universities" for covering the lost scholarships.

It's the second time in four years an East Texas college has angered international students. In 2014, Navarro College canceled accepting two students from West Africa over Ebola panic, even though there were more cases in Dallas than in their home of Nigeria.

Sabina Khanal, an honor student from Lamjung, Nepal, will get a full scholarship to TCU, one of two given to help students left in the lurch when UT Tyler awarded them scholarships but ran into money trouble. Courtesy photo

TCU's dean of admission, Heath Einstein, said word spread quickly worldwide of how UT Tyler treated the Nepalese.

"The question began to rise not only of whether the U.S. wanted international students, but specifically Texas," Einstein said.

"TCU's mission is to teach leaders to think and act as responsible citizens in the larger community. We asked ourselves, could we be ethics leaders in the education community? … It seemed like a no-brainer."

At least 20 universities worldwide have stepped up to take students, including not only American schools but also colleges in Qatar, South Korea and Canada, Liu said. About 20 students are trying to find colleges.

Einstein said Chaudhary and Khanal's test scores qualified them to join TCU's incoming freshman class of 2,150, its largest ever. (That's out of 20,100 applications.)

Chaudhary will study computer science.

After he received UT Tyler's take-a-hike letter, he said, he didn't have the courage to tell his parents for two weeks.

"I was really depressed because my dreams were directly linked to this scholarship," he wrote.

Nepalese students take a year off school to prepare for college, apply and arrange travel.

"I thought my one year of hard work and faith had all gone in vain," he wrote.

Khanal, daughter of a retired schoolteacher, also plans to major in computer science.

After UT Tyler backtracked on its deal, she wrote, "I was not able to look into my parents' eyes. Everything had been destroyed — the whole year spent for the application process, my dreams, my career, my parents' happiness and much more."

Liu, the counselor, said TCU was one of the first universities offering help.

"TCU is saving their lives," Liu said.

"The perception of TCU internationally is good — it's a diverse university with a global outlook. These kids were afraid they weren't going to get to come to the U.S. at all. This was their life, their family, their future."

In a thank-you note to TCU international admissions counselor Karen Scott, Khanal wrote: "By giving this opportunity to me, you not only made a daughter able to look into her parents' eyes with pride, but also saved a life from being destroyed as I did not know what I could even possibly do. … Thanks to you for giving me this opportunity at this time of the admissions process when almost no colleges would have funds remaining.

"I hope to make you proud."

We already are.

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