Covid-19 travel update: the U.S. will allow International Students to return in the Fall

Within the last 18 months, students all around the world have faced harder learning conditions than ever before…. but is it all over? Are we on the brink of normalcy again or is the hybrid learning style the "new normal"?

Like most higher ed institutions, you’ve had to act on your feet and adapt almost overnight to a ‘remote learning’ model to ensure your students could keep learning...but what’s next?

We’re quickly approaching Fall 2021 with many International Students ready to make their long journeys from India, Singapore, China, Pakistan, and many more countries; however, what does this mean for them?

The Student, which is part of Times Higher Education, reported in April 2021 that the U.S. will allow International Students to return in the Fall. They go on to discuss how this move will affect tens of thousands of current and future International Students who are hoping to commence their studies within the U.S.

Not only do international students bring great skills and talent to the U.S., but they also boost the economy. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, international students contributed $45 billion to the U.S. economy in 2018. NAFSA reports that

“The U.S loses more than 42,000 jobs and $1.8 billion as students flee for better opportunities”.

During the 2019-2020 academic year, NAFSA reported that more than one million international students at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $38.7 billion to the U.S. economy, which was down 4.4% (a loss of $1.8 billion) from the prior academic year. This is the first time the dollar amount had dropped since NAFSA began calculating the economic contributions of international students.

Fall 2020...where we were a year ago

Thankfully, it is predicted that this Fall will be very different from last year. Here is a reminder of where we were a year ago; the Institute of International Education (IIE) generated an ‘International Student Enrolment Snapshot’ for Fall 2020. Their key findings were that U.S. higher education institutions adapted to enable International Students to attend their classes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

  • 99% of responding institutions were holding online classes or implementing a hybrid model (1 in 5 were studying online abroad in Fall 2020)
  • Most institutions reported providing specific support to International Students both on-campus and online; 74% virtual networking events, 68% adapted course schedules and teaching methods, 29% reported providing emergency funding for International Students.
  • 100% of institutions with international students on-campus instituted protocols to support all students' safety. Measures include restricting campus events and social areas, publishing safety guidelines, requiring face coverings, and reducing class sizes.

Looking Forward to Fall 2021 

Ahead of Fall 2021, IIE generated a report titled ‘Preparing for the Future: The Path Forward for International Education Exchange’ which highlights the challenges universities are now facing. IIE administered the fourth survey to U.S higher education institutions from April 15 to May 5, 2021. They sent it to their IIENetwork which consists of a membership-based community of over 1,300 higher education institutions and other organizations in the United States and abroad.

Vaccination Rates

Universities are having to balance many different things including variable vaccination rates worldwide and the outbreaks in India, Latin America, and other locations. They are also having to create on-campus strategies around vaccination requirements;

Approximately 45% do not plan to require a vaccine before students arrive on campus. Only 14% of institutions have a requirement in place. Most colleges and universities (55%) are still deliberating whether to require COVID-19 vaccinations for students pursuing in-person study abroad”.

International Travel 

International Students are also having to circumnavigate the logistics of global travel in such uncertain times; both scarce flights and visa issues. Bloomberg Wealth highlights that students traveling from China (around a third of the 1 million International Students) have had to resort to lining up chartered planes due to the lack of flights.

"Chinese students are finding the airline industry’s fitful recovery from the pandemic is making the trip to the U.S. trickier to plan, with a 96% decline in seats from two years ago. In July, there are 61 flights, or 20,254 seats, going from China to the U.S., according to Cirium, an aviation data company. That is far lower than the 1,626 flights, or 479,519, seats, making that voyage in July 2019”. Bloomberg Wealth

Visa Purgatory 

India is currently stuck in visa purgatory because the State Department reduced personnel at embassies and consulates due to the pandemic. And that’s not touching on the fast-changing COVID-vaccine guidelines.

Hiked Tuition Fees

Universities either increased their tuition fees, froze them, or even discounted them. CNBC reports that some colleges went to remote learning but hiked tuition fees. They add that some universities froze tuition fees, some even announced discounts or more dramatic tuition cuts. This resulted in tuition fees being the lowest they have been in three decades according to the College Board – rising 1% to 2% in 2020-2021 at public and private colleges, says CNBC.

Stranded Students 

Additionally, students are having to consider areas that are not covered through ‘remote learning’ or ‘BYOD’. USA Today released ‘Stranded international college students feel abandoned’, an article about Gemma Potter, an Australian basketball player and a key player of UCLA’s 2020 signing class. After six months of trying to get to America, she decided to forgo the U.S. Education and NCAA eligibility and turn pro in her home country. As it turns out, Gemma is not alone; there are many athletes all around the world who hope to study in the U.S.

“International students probably took the hardest hit in the pandemic,” said Wendy Wolford, vice provost for international affairs and a professor of global development at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Bloomberg Wealth

Looking Ahead

IIE has generated a report titled ‘Preparing for the Future: The Path Forward for International Educational Exchange’ which includes key information around the return to In-Person Learning for International Students:

  • Spring 2021: Over half of institutions (52%) noted that most of their international students attended classes in person at some point during the semester in spring 2021.
  • Fall 2021: For all students on campus, the vast majority of institutions (86%) are planning some type of in-person study in fall 2021, and none of the reporting institutions intend to offer virtual instruction only. Mirroring this finding, 90% of institutions plan to offer in-person study to international students.

Institutional Plans for Instruction in Fall 2021

The IIE report goes on to add “for all students on campus, including both U.S. and international students, a majority of colleges and universities (86%) plan to offer in-person or hybrid instruction in fall 2021, with most institutions (62%) planning to offer hybrid instruction. Approximately one in four institutions (24%) have made the decision to offer in-person study only. Notably, no reporting institutions (0%) reported an intent to offer virtual instruction only. This marks a shift from fall 2020, when 88% of institutions offered a hybrid option of study, 11% had virtual instruction only, and only 2% had only in-person instruction”.

What is a Hybrid Solution? 

A Hybrid Solution enables students to study and complete coursework both on and off-campus. This can be achieved through BYOD, virtualization, and VDI. Many of our customers have been able to provide a Hybrid Solution through the delivery of AppsAnywhere. During the pandemic, we managed to work seamlessly with many colleges and universities to deliver this solution within record-breaking timeframes. 

The Future 

Universities are not only a place for education but a place to build friendships, interact with new people, develop and grow both professionally and socially. Having to develop an off-campus model overnight certainly had its drawbacks from a student & university perspective. Have we entered into a new era where the best balance for both students and universities is a hybrid model? One where students can complete coursework anytime, anywhere, and on any device while still getting the in-person support and social aspect?

Likewise in an office environment, we’re moving into times where the in-office/working from home balance is demanded by employees. Many companies are now adapting, allowing employees to work within the office a couple of days a week and the rest from home. Is this the new normal? Have we progressed to find a better, happier balance that accommodates everyone's needs? We'll leave that for you to decide...