The coronavirus pandemic has put a spanner in the works for many of our plans. What has the pandemic’s impact been on education in the US?
When COVID-19 first hit the news as a new virus causing respiratory illnesses in China, no one could have imagined the level of destruction it would bring in its wake. Medical experts and governments put in place strict measures to slow the spread, and the world since March 2020 has been a different place indeed. Dealing with the unforeseen challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has been difficult, and has taken a significant toll on people all across the world. The education industry has also been severely affected, and with the US being the worst affected country, the impact of COVID-19 on education in the US, in particular, has been a cause for concern. In this post, we will cover some highlights on how higher education has been impacted in the US and what steps universities are taking in response to this pandemic.
Higher Education in the US
Current & prospective students who are aspiring to study abroad are very worried, and understandably so. Prospective students need to make critical decisions on whether to still pursue their dream to study abroad during this difficult and uncertain time. But instead of fearing the worst, it can be helpful to arm yourself with information of the current status.
The United States of America has been the preferred global choice for higher education for students from all countries. The number of international students in the US set an all-time high with 1,095,299 in the 2018/19 academic year, the 4th consecutive year with 1M+ international students. When the Coronavirus outbreak hit the US in March 2020, many American universities suspended physical, in-person classes and shifted to online classes. To add to the measures, American consulates in different parts of the world suspended visa processing for migrants.
[We are also keeping a close watch on university-wise updates for Fall 2020. New blog will be up soon - COVID-19: Official Status of US Universities. You can join our wait list to keep yourself updated and make well-informed, timely decisions.]
Let’s go through the important points that current and prospective international students should know about studying in the US as universities take unprecedented measures to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Impact of COVID-19 on Current International Students
Since March 2020, universities have had no option but to offer online classes, or offer deferment to future semesters. Some colleges and universities in the US have even suspended study abroad programs and asked students to remain at home following their Spring break. The travel restrictions have added to the woes, with many students unable to come back to the US for their next semester.
Many universities have closed their college facilities and housing to slow the spread of the pandemic and help “flatten the curve.” Some campuses are asking students to vacate premises and causing more distress, particularly to international students who are worried about their visa and immigration status, housing, and travel plans. Due to the travel restrictions, these students don’t have an option to go back to their home country.
But the universities have not left the students high and dry. The university authorities are taking active steps to stay in contact with students, especially international, and have set up dedicated pages to share campus updates in response to the pandemic. They are also offering vital support services, in terms of visa, housing, counseling, etc.
If you are looking for guidance on the financial aspects of your move to the US, including student and/or personal loans, contact Zolve.
In addition, the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) has made changes to their guidelines to ensure that the immigration status of enrolled international students is not affected if they take courses online. SEVP has provided adequate flexibility for universities to implement temporary adaptations due to COVID-19, such as moving to online instruction.
[The SEVP Portal is an important tool that lets F-1 students on post-completion optional practical training (OPT) and M-1 students participating in practical training meet their legal reporting requirements in the US.]
Impact of COVID-19 on Prospective International Students
We now turn to the future outlook for the fresh upcoming batch of students for Fall 2020. With travel restrictions in place, these prospective and admitted students face a lot of uncertainty about how the future will unfold.
Here are some things prospective international students should know for the upcoming sessions of Fall 2020 and Spring 2021:
University In-person Classes
Many universities are making efforts to be fully open and operational. They have dedicated faculty and staff leaning into preparing for all the requirements necessary to operate safely across academics, athletics, and campus activities, and ensure they follow all updated federal, state, and healthcare guidance. Some large public universities are working toward resuming on-campus classes in the fall, such as Arizona State University, IIT Chicago, Central Michigan University, James Madison University in Virginia, Purdue University—West Lafayette in Indiana, etc. Keep a close tab on the universities you are interested in (or have already been admitted into) to know their latest updates.
There is a possibility that international students will have to take their fall semester or quarter classes online due to the travel restrictions/visa issues, despite some schools taking steps to reopen. Online education has its own set of disadvantages, such as timezone difference, lack of free-flowing conversations and discussions, and technological difficulties related to weak devices or access to the internet. But don’t despair. The university authorities are generally very understanding and helpful, and will give you better options if available. So, do reach out to them and have a frank conversation. (Remember, though, that this pandemic is not their fault. So don’t take your frustration out on them. They’re also doing their best to cope, just like we all are.)
Some universities, such as San Jose State University, UCB and Rice University, are planning for a hybrid model. Classes will be delivered in dual-mode, available both in-person and remotely. These universities have undergone the process to equip classrooms with the technological infrastructure required for remote delivery. However, this won’t help you until you actually travel to the US, so as long as you are not in the university already, this option remains as an online option for you.
If you’re not at that stage yet, you may be worried about these aspects:
Admission Tests & Exams
Crucial exams for admissions, such as TOEFL and GRE, are being allowed to be taken at home until the situation is conducive for tests to be conducted at the centers. Some Universities are offering GRE waivers or have begun accepting online English tests such as Duolingo. So, if you have been planning to apply later this year along with your test results, your plans are still in place.
For those who are all prepared to fly to the US for the Fall semester, there may be some challenges. All US visa consulates across the world suspended operations in March 2020. As per the last circular, they were supposed to open in the 1st week of June. Whenever the consulates do open, they will already have a huge backlog to be taken care of due to closure for months. Therefore, you should anticipate having an extremely short window within which to apply for their visas (apply for premium processing) for the move to the US. Make sure you are completely ready with all the required documents, so you don’t face any problems on that front.
Option to Defer Enrollment
If you have accepted an offer of admission from a US university and have paid a deposit, you may have the option to defer your enrollment due to the ongoing travel restrictions, health concerns, and visa issues. We suggest you regularly monitor the college website to stay on top of all updates.
How the Future Will Unfold
Though about 30 million Americans have already received the first dose, Coronavirus is going to be with us for quite some time. We need to prepare ourselves for a future that includes some restrictions until we are rid of this virus, so it’s best to prepare accordingly and temper our expectations. American universities have taken extraordinarily proactive measures to support the students, faculty, and staff at their institutions. The immediate and short-term decision-making of these institutions has helped to tackle the situation. In the longer term, with the right policy framework, and the development and adoption of new technologies, student confidence will improve, and studying abroad will be seen as a safe endeavor again.
There will be concerns, and understandably so, in the mind of students and parents about whether study abroad is a good proposition at a time like this. Zolve is always here to help you with the latest updates from the universities, useful financial products as well as advice on tackling the challenges. Remember, that this is just a temporary blip in the larger scheme of life. Just like after the financial crisis of 2008, when the market bounced back stronger than before, this industry will also re-emerge as more resilient and more sustainable. As the popular quote goes, “This too shall pass.” So, stay positive, keep hoping, and continue to take strides towards your dream.
Follow this space for more posts like this. We hope they will help make your life more comfortable in the US.