Thursday, May 28

Dashew Center addresses transparency concerns regarding iSTART fees

Student leaders are asking the university to be more transparent about how it spends the money from a mandatory fee for international students.

All incoming international students are required to pay an iSTART fee, which funds an online orientation, on top of their New Student Orientation fees during their first quarter at UCLA. A survey conducted by Graduate Students Association and International Graduate Students Association in January found 70 percent of respondents were not aware that the fee was charged later in the quarter. Several students have also called for the iSTART orientation to be in person rather than online.

In response to the survey, the Dashew Center for International Students and Scholars has created a focus group to directly gather student feedback and updated its website to include a detailed description of the iSTART fee, according to a statement from the center.

The fee is a one-time $59 payment that gives students access to an online orientation and other services provided by the Dashew Center, such as a resource fair.

Kayla He, Undergraduate Student Association Council’s general representative 2, said she thinks it is unfair that international students have to pay an additional orientation fee. Domestic students only pay $445 for the three-day New Student Orientation, and are exempt from the iSTART fee.

“We come here, and get accepted, so why is it not on UCLA to help us to transition in here?” she said.

Tianyun Lin, IGSA president, said that in response to the associations’ advocacy efforts, the Dashew Center agreed to release a statement breaking down the fee’s budget, and included a reminder on its website for students to pay the fee. Previously, many students were not aware that they were charged because the fee only appeared on their BruinBill accounts later in the quarter. Students incurred late fees for nonpayments.

“If (the Dashew Center) provides us with some detailed breakdown (of) how they spend the money, then it is more acceptable than if we do not know where it is spent,” Lin said.

Several students also said they think the program’s online orientation is not helpful for them to transition to UCLA. Students are required to watch videos and pass quizzes on topics such as academic integrity and culture shock to help them transition into a college environment.

Bozhan Chen, a fourth-year business economics student, said he thinks the online orientation did not provide a personalized learning experience to help him acclimate to campus life.

“During an online orientation we just want to finish the test and questions quickly, and we think the test is boring, so an on-site orientation would be more effective to help us understand campus life,” he said.

Kayla He added she thinks the current online orientation program isolates students from engaging in a new community.

“You go far away from home to your new home here, but when you get here people welcome you by making you go online,” she said.

The Dashew Center said in a statement it currently has seven students in its focus group to gather feedback on the program. The center is working to register more students to serve in the focus group.

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