PROVO — For Alexandrina Mic-Podar, $4,000 isn't just a lot of money, it's an impossible amount of money.
She scrimped and saved for two years in Budapest, Hungary, working two jobs to attend LDS Business College, thinking some day she would transfer to BYU.
But that goal is quickly fading, now that BYU has revised its tuition policy for international students.
"I don't have an extra 4,000-plus tuition to pay; I just absolutely don't," the 27-year-old said. "You can't just change things like that on people."
Previously, international students paid a $4,000 deposit upon acceptance, which was immediately accessible for educational expenses.
However, beginning this summer, the deposit will be held in escrow for the duration of the student's education, accessible only in times of financial hardship. Any remaining funds will be returned to the student, with interest, the semester before graduation.
Which means international students coming to BYU must prove, per federal regulations, that they have the $12,600 to cover a year of tuition and living expenses plus provide a $4,000 deposit.
Because BYU is subsidized by LDS tithing funds, that yearly cost, which includes tuition, room and board, books, etc., is significantly lower than the yearly cost for international students at the University of Utah ($29,200), Utah State University, ($29,200), Weber State University ($24,000), Southern Utah University ($22,200) or Utah Valley University ($19,400).
The policy change was first discussed last summer by a group of BYU administrators who were noticing more international students not graduating because of financial concerns, said BYU spokeswoman Carri Jenkins. The school did not give a specific number of students who fit that category, only that there is an "increasing number of international students who report being in financial distress," Jenkins said.
"This is being done for the benefit of the students, so that when they come, they can continue through all four years and achieve the plans they've set forth," she said. The new policy applies to transfers and new students but doesn't apply to those currently enrolled.
Yet despite the good intentions, many potential BYU students see the policy change as itself a financial hardship.
"If BYU implements this policy, I would have to go home and start my education all over again the third time," said Ksenia Andriyanova from Ufa, Russia, who will graduate in April from LDS Business College. "I am 26. I have no time or money to do so."
As an international student, Andriyanova isn't eligible for student loans or Pell Grants, and she can only work 20 hours a week on campus. And if she isn't in school, she can't stay in the country.
Andriyanova was prepared to pay BYU's required $4,000 deposit, but she had counted on using it to pay her first semester's tuition, not have it sit in an account.
"Our concern, of course, is that if students have planned to access this money immediately, it then leaves them without any sort of a financial cushion if they should face financial difficulties," Jenkins said.
At 18, Andriyanova's family disowned her when they learned she had joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and planned to serve an LDS mission.
When she returned, the Russian university refused to accept her back or restore her five-year scholarship, negating the studying she had done before her mission.
Although her family has welcomed her back and helped a bit with her education, they won't understand why she can't pursue her dream of attending BYU.
"How can I go home now and tell my family that I failed to get an education for the second time?" said Andriyanova, who has started a Facebook page and a Web site, www.ldscampus.org, to gather signatures from concerned students requesting a policy amendment.
Jenkins said the administrative group talked with about 60 of BYU's 2,000 international students regarding the change. An administrator is also meeting with concerned students to answer questions.
At other Church Education System schools, a $4,000 deposit is also required from international students, but it's immediately accessible.
BYU-Hawaii requires the deposit only from international students outside their target areas of Asia and the Pacific Islands, and an $800 flight fee from all international students for their ticket home.
Students at BYU-Idaho can immediately tap into their $4,000, plus pull out $200 in cash each semester.
"I figure it's the student's money," said R. Mike Oswald, International Services Manager at BYU-I. "It's there for school-related expenses."
Public universities like the U., WSU, SUU, USU and UVU don't require deposits, just the federally regulated financial guarantee of an ability to pay the first year's costs.
But transferring to BYU-I, rather than BYU, won't work for Moises Correa, 23, who wants to study neuroscience, a major not offered in Idaho.
The native of Pelotas, Brazil, will graduate from LDS Business College in December and was prepared to pay BYU's tuition — but out of his $4,000 deposit. Without that money, he'll have to go back home, where his associate degree is not recognized.
"My dreams of obtaining an education at a church school basically are gone, if this policy is accepted," he said.
Concerned international students, who still love BYU, have sent ideas and a petition to BYU President Cecil Samuelson. Despite little to no response, they will send a second petition next week, Correa said.
Their solutions are simple, Correa explained. First, exclude transfer students from the additional $4,000 deposit requirement, as they've already shown their ability to be self-sustaining in the United States, and are unable to quickly raise the additional money working 20 hours a week through on-campus jobs, the only employment they're allowed to have.
Second, have BYU keep $1,000 of the deposit for a plane ticket home if a student can't pay their bills, then allow the other $3,000 to be accessed immediately.
"As an international student (when) you come to America, you have to prove that you have money," Mic-Podar said. "Give me the chance to be honest. Give me the chance to prove to you that I do have money. If something happens, let me deal with that situation. I'm not a 5-year-old child. If I cannot pay my tuition, I go home. I take responsibility for that."