Will international students return to in-person learning?

With COVID-19 restrictions being lifted, more and more colleges are reimagining what a return to campus may look like. The Institute of International Education (IIE) reports that 90 percent of colleges are planning to resume in-person learning for international college students. But what does that look like for these students traveling from abroad?

We take a deeper dive into what this return to campus may look like for the international student population.

What are the barriers to in-person learning that exist for international students?

1. Vaccine availability

The availability and type of vaccine that is accessible are dependent on where the student resides. Different countries have different protocols and timelines. Students may not want to fly to campus without being fully vaccinated and if schools are requiring the vaccine for in-person learning, but aren’t offering it on campus, that could also be a reason why a student may not be able to attend.

2. Visa processing

International students are required to have an F-1 Student Visa. However, routine visa processing has been temporarily suspended at U.S. embassies and consulates across the world. This makes it challenging for these students to currently continue their education in person in America.

3. International travel restrictions and airline travel

Every country has different requirements for reentry, including the United States. The fact that this is not a universal process provides difficulties. To arrive at their school, most students will need to fly. That becomes challenging when there are limited commercial flight options available to them. Compounding this, is if they need to return home quickly. So, they may not feel as comfortable studying in the United States because they no longer can travel home unexpectedly.

4. Recent outbreaks

The COVID-19 outbreak varies based on each country and region. Some countries have already reached their peak and have the virus under control, while others are experiencing new outbreaks. With a varying international student body, the situation is not the same for every student. And, the recent outbreaks in India, Latin America, and other regions prove this.

If there is a decline in international student enrollment, what will that look like on campus?

Increase in domestic student enrollment

In anticipation of a decline in international student enrollment, many colleges admitted more domestic students during regular decisions. Because of this, the student body may become less diverse.

Ability to broaden horizons is now limited

One of the biggest benefits of attending college classes is that students can learn with people that challenge them. In and out of the classroom, international students help provide a different perspective and different real-world experiences to their learning. With a decline, those valuable lessons could be lost.

Continuation of hybrid/remote learning

More than 90 percent of colleges have shared with the Institute of International Education (IIE) that international students have still enrolled for at least one online course. Therefore, remote considerations will still need to be a priority for learning.

This is also challenging due to differing time zones and the fact that this is a different experience from those who are learning in-person. More and more schools are offering advising and academic support to try to ensure that regardless of your learning situation, the same education is accessible for all.

To combat all of this, how are colleges across America planning for this return to campus for international students?

Increased communication

The Institute of International Education (IIE) reported that this past year over 70 percent of colleges have worked on delivering communication that works for their international population. They have used this as a way to regularly check on students’ health and well-being and this has taken the form of text and WhatsApp messaging, and communication through other social media platforms. Some schools have even made an extra effort to ensure that class times work for different time zones.

Increased financial support

You may have seen that NAFSA: Association of International Educators, has been lobbying Congress for economic stimulus funds for international education, as well as policy changes, like the in-person student visa interview requirement. Instead, they hope to be able to offer priority appointments for students and scholar visa applicants.

Vaccine availability

Vaccine availability varies based on region. The IIE’s COVID-19 Snapshot Survey showed that 64 percent of reported colleges and universities are offering COVID-19 vaccines for students, faculty, and staff on campus.

Recruitment strategies

Institutions have also begun to think creatively about how to maintain relationships with prospective students abroad, even if the enrollment is expected to be down. Colleges have implemented online recruiting fairs, targeted social media outreach efforts, and are partnering with current international students to generate interest by offering personal stories and testimonials about their experiences.

Partnering with overseas “sister” schools

The University of Arizona, for example, is focused on making education accessible for its students by expanding its partner schools abroad. Students that are unable to travel to campus in the United States, can attend a partner institution where they can enroll in their college’s program overseas.

If the pandemic has taught us anything, it has taught us how to prepare.

While international students account for only 5.5 percent of the overall enrolled student population across the United States, it widely varies how dependent these schools are on the tuition and revenue this brings in. Many schools are reliant on this revenue, so despite resuming in-person learning for international students if these students are not enrolling in their educational programs, schools may experience financial repercussions.

With proper preparation though, the hope is that out of the 90 percent of colleges planning for an in-person international student return, there will also be a significant international population that enrolls and returns to campus.

Visit our Coronavirus resources page for the latest information for Wellfleet Student clients & student members.

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