17 Jun No Comments Katerina Fedorova Uncategorized , , , ,

International Students Face Dire Prospects In Fall

Daily Life In New York City Amid Coronavirus Outbreak

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, fewer international students were choosing U.S. universities. Today, serious questions have emerged about international education. What will happen to new students accepted to U.S. universities in the fall 2020? What will be the fate of current international students, including those who wish to apply for Optional Practical Training? Will America’s doors be open to international education this fall and, if so, who will want to walk through them?

U.S. universities are in dire financial straits due to the coronavirus pandemic and the prospect of a diminished number of international students. “Public U.S. universities are at higher risk than their global peers due to potential government funding cuts and lower investment income, which accounts for a higher percentage of income than for global peers,” reported Moody’s in April 2020. “International student flows will depend on the how the outbreak and policy response evolve in individual countries, with the U.S. and China the most influential. Most rated universities rely heavily on Chinese students, who account for 23% of international students worldwide.”

International Students Face Dire Prospects In Fall

International students who have remained in the United States after campuses emptied are in better shape than those who departed the country. Remote learning allowed many students to complete the spring semester but how U.S. universities offer classes in the fall remains a major decision on each campus, influenced by the health situation.

“There will be distancing rules and wearing of masks,” said Alan W. Cramb, president of Illinois Institute of Technology, in an interview. “We’ll be measuring temperatures and having all sorts of processes to ensure if anyone does come down with Covid-19, we can quarantine. We expect to be fully back in class for undergraduate and graduate students in the fall, and we’re planning for that.”

Cramb said the school will offer the opportunity to begin the fall semester remotely for any international students unable to study on campus for health, travel or immigration reasons. “The students want to come to class here in the United States,” said Cramb. “The big driver for obtaining an American education for many international students, as it was for me, is to be in the United States. I think if international students can’t come here on campus, then some might choose to delay their start and come later when it’s possible.” Cramb, born in Scotland, earned a Ph.D. in Materials Science from the University of Pennsylvania.

While international students benefit from a U.S. education, less attention is paid to the advantages U.S. students may gain from the exposure to students from different backgrounds and cultures. “I think it’s a great experience to be with the international students in undergraduate and graduate classes for all American students, as it is a great experience for the international students to be with American students,” said Cramb. “When we talk to companies, they like it a lot, because it means our American students, who may work and travel to other nations, are already comfortable working with people from different countries. It’s very valuable experience.”

International Students Face Dire Prospects In Fall

Cramb believes U.S. universities will have difficulty offering the same array of courses to U.S. students if international student numbers decline further. “Most universities are dependent on tuition dollars to make the budget work,” he said. “As your numbers decrease, especially the numbers of people who pay higher than the normal tuition, that really has an effect on what you can do as a university. We haven’t faced that issue because we’re so focused in technology, but if a university has large offerings of classes in the humanities, then tough decisions might have to be made.”

Cramb is worried about Trump administration plans to restrict or scale back Optional Practical Training (OPT). “Significantly restricting OPT would have a devastating effect on attracting international graduate students in science and engineering to the United States,” he said. Cramb said at the master’s degree level students in science and engineering use OPT to gain experience in their fields but also to earn money to pay back the cost of their education, and perhaps stay in the U.S. or at least go home debt-free. “If students cannot do Optional Practical Training, then they won’t come to the United States. It’s that simple.” He saw this happen in real-time in 2008 when students from India were concerned that they would not be able to work on OPT.

He does not expect to see new Chinese students on campus in the fall. “My expectation is that we will not see any new Chinese students in the country in the fall unless there’s some major rapprochement between the U.S. and China,” he said. He cites the current travel restrictions on China and the difficulty of obtaining an interview at U.S. consulates.

Miriam Feldblum, the co-founder and executive director of the Presidents’ Alliance on Higher Education and Immigration, told me, “Right now, the availability of visa interviews in many places is still nonexistent or the first interview dates currently available are later in the summer or in the fall or beyond. Certainly, some incoming international students have gotten visa interviews.”

Feldblum sees a host of obstacles working against any semblance of normalcy for international students in the fall. “First, there are the Covid-19 travel bans and flight restrictions, combined with the visa processing challenges, especially if the State Department does not put into place more systemic solutions to expedite and prioritize processing,” she said. “The increased rhetoric around presidential proclamations, threats to OPT and H-1B will present a picture of the United States as an unwelcoming environment.” U.S. educators agree that more accommodations from the State Department in 2020 and better policies out of Washington, D.C. would help to attract more international students to the United States.

She points out this is taking place alongside the ongoing uncertainty about how U.S. campuses will actually function in the fall. “The prospects for enrollment of new international students may be dire,” she said. Those working in international recruitment think enrollment of new international students could decline by 60% to 70%, she said.

Given the uncertainties and obstacles, it is possible the 2020-21 academic year will be a lost year for international students coming to America. Given the importance of international students financially for U.S. universities – helping to subsidize U.S. students – and as a source of talent for American companies, this may be another costly impact of Covid-19.

International Students Face Dire Prospects In Fall

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