- With travel and other pandemic-related restrictions making it harder for colleges to recruit international students, many are adopting measures to ease their entry or return to school, according to a new survey from the Institute of International Education (IIE).
- Out of 599 U.S. institutions, 44% said they're allowing international students to take online exams instead of in-person tests, 42% are updating accepted students more regularly and 40% are offering them the option to defer enrollment.
- Even with these new measures, 88% of institutions expect international student enrollment to decline in the 2020-21 academic year — a trend that could further harm college budgets.
IIE's report offers a look at how colleges are preparing for the fall term. Around 70% of respondents expect issues such as travel restrictions and visa delays will prevent some of their international students from traveling to campus in the fall.
Overall, surveyed colleges predict 16% of their international students won't be able to travel to the U.S. for the fall term, according to IIE's analysis. Losing a significant share of international students, who often pay full tuition, could devastate some colleges' finances.
However, what kind of options schools will be able to provide international students this fall remains a "complicated picture," said Mirka Martel, IIE's head of research, evaluation and learning. Most (85%) of the colleges surveyed said they haven't decided whether they will offer virtual, hybrid or in-person classes.
In 2017, the engineering and business schools at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign shielded themselves from a partial loss of international students. They insured themselves against an 18.5% or greater drop in tuition revenue from students coming from China, caused by events such as a pandemic, travel restrictions or a trade war.
The U.S. government's response to the crisis will likely impact how well higher education institutions can financially recover from it, according to recent research from Moody's Investors Service. If it fails to curb the spread of COVID-19, foreign students will be less likely to come here for their education.
International enrollment declines could be exacerbated if China continues to restrict travel to and from the country. Around one-third of international students studying in the U.S. are from China.
The pandemic has already upended many international students' educations. To support these students, most institutions IIE surveyed said they offered guidance on student visas (84%), increased communications about health and well-being (82%) and allowed them to stay in dorms or alternative housing (74%).
The coronavirus crisis also interrupted a key time to recruit international students. Nearly two-thirds (63%) of polled institutions said they scrapped recruiting trips and more than half (57%) canceled recruiting events. Around 78% of colleges turned to virtual events to recruit international students.
Study abroad was also impacted during the spring. In all, more than 250 institutions said they had to evacuate nearly 18,000 students combined who were studying abroad. To help these students, roughly half of the institutions paid for some or all of their travel costs, coordinated travel arrangements and integrated them into current classes so they could finish the term.
Around 85% of institutions expect that fewer students will be interested in study abroad programs in the 2020-21 academic year due to the pandemic, IIE's survey found. Students' families may also have had their hours reduced or lost their jobs, making it harder for them to afford such experiences.