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Understaffed International Advising Office negatively impacts students 

At Seattle Central College, international students pay $4,341.66 per quarter for 20 credits compared to the $1,945.70 domestic students pay for the same. Altogether, international students fund 5% of Central’s total operating revenue and often need the most advising assistance regarding immigration and visa statuses while navigating an American college. In a Malthusian Catastrophe, the international advising office, serving an international student body of 916 across three campuses, has no more than three advisors, two of which are fully dedicated to Central. 

Those advisors sift through hundreds of emails, questions, and advising appointments in an attempt to keep up with the serious needs of the college’s international students. However, as the 3-to-916 ratio implies, attending to everyone’s needs seems impossible. That has a significant impact on the lives of students. I have recently decided to apply for OPT (Optional Practical Training) — a legal employment authorization for immigrants who complete their AA degree —which includes sending several documents to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The process takes several months to be approved at the Federal level. 

That application opened on Nov. 16, and I made an effort to get all my paperwork finished weeks beforehand so I could submit it as soon as it opened and start working soon after graduating. But before submitting that application to the Federal Government, an international advisor must review it and update a legal document called the I-20. By Oct. 15, I contacted my appointed advisor, who told me their soonest availability would not be until Nov. 29, meaning I wouldn’t be able to submit the application until December. While it isn’t my advisor’s fault, the late appointment date will influence my stay in the U.S. and my source of income.

Francisco Fonseca, who has been working as an international ambassador at Central’s International Programs office since 2021, says he’s heard students talk about slow response rates and long waits to talk to an advisor. 

“These problems come as our department constantly faces understaffing,” Fonseca said. “During Fall orientation break, a time when international students can work full-time, I like to assist students on concerns that I can help with, like ctcLink navigation, or very general school resources.”

Fonseca says he tries to “decompress the IP office and advisors” when he can.

Another international student at Central, Jinnie Lai, says she’s been struggling resolving issues with the help from an advisor for a long time. 

“Eventually, I decided to do everything by myself since I won’t get any help from [the advisors] any time soon,” she said. “I need to chase them and email bump them to get an official answer that doesn’t help at all.” 

So, who should we hold accountable? Why is this happening? Why isn’t the college hiring more advisors?

Kathie Kwilinski, the Executive Director of International Programs for the Seattle Colleges, says “At the moment we have three advisors, of which two are dedicated fully to Central.” 

During the beginning of Fall quarter’s peak advising period, Kwilinski explained the college said goodbye to two advisors. 

“Our goal is for each advisor in our department to carry a caseload of 200 to 225, this is a much lower ratio than most other student populations experience across the Seattle Colleges,” Kwilinski said. 

After a failed candidate search in the summer, Kwilinski reports that a more recent search to fill the vacancies resulted in a strong candidate pool. 

“We expect to make the offer for two positions (one dedicated to Central and one split between Central and South). This will bring our advisors to our caseload goals,” she said. She also explained that the department is working with all relevant stakeholders to shorten onboarding time, allowing them to provide services more quickly. 

“I thank you and all of our international students for your patience with us as we hire, train and onboard our new advisors,” Kwilinski added. 

While my conversation with Kwilinski was clarifying and reassuring, my international student peers and I continue to struggle with obtaining advising services. Kwilinski also shared that the department intended to offer two positions “in a day or two,” when we last spoke on Nov. 14. 

Lastly, she asked me to promote drop-in advising sessions. “These are available in-person and virtually and are an appropriate choice for so many student advising needs,” said Kwilinski. Click here to check the current drop-in advising schedule for Central. 

Author

Content Editor at Seattle Collegian

Sophia is an internationally published author with her book Primeira Pessoa, as well as a young classical singer. Born and raised in Brazil, music, writing, and Astronomy are her greatest passions. She believes the greatest role of a writer is to bring forth the truth, the honesty, and the humanity that echoes within each one of us. Journalism, while Art, is for her a portrait of the fraternity of the Earth. At the moment, she works for both The Seattle Collegian and the M. Rosetta Hunter Art Gallery, while completing her AA degree with a focus on Anthropology & English.

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