Friday, May 20, 2022

How COVID-19 Has Affected US University Campuses, And What The Fall Semester Looks Like

All Higher Education experts and surveyors are keenly watching institutional plans for the fall semester. Anxious times continue for Indian students planning higher education in the US in fall 2020, writes Saikat Majumdar.

How COVID-19 Has Affected US University Campuses, And What The Fall Semester Looks Like
In this file photo, students and passers-by walk past an entrance to Boston University College of Arts and Sciences, in Boston, Massachusetts, Nov. 29, 2018. (Associated Press)

The Institute of International Education (IIE) has released a comprehensive report of the effects of COVID-19 on university campuses across the US. Compiled by Dr. Mirka Martel, it was released this May, with indications about institutional planning in the summer and fall semesters of 2020.

While the country seems torn between fear of the pandemic and revolt against the cramped lives and a troubled economy, the IIE report, prepared on the basis of surveys from 599 institutions of higher education from every US state, Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, outlines the wide and severe impact of the pandemic across the nation’s university campuses.

Campus life was profoundly affected in the Spring of 2020, forcing institutions to do a 180-degree turn in the middle of the semester. 91% of institutions closed their campus buildings and offices; most of them canceled all travel for students, faculty and staff during the spring semester. Over half of institutions, 54%, noted that dormitories and housing were closed.

Some institutes pointed out that limited housing was made available for international students who could not leave campus on short notice, as well as at-risk students who did not have alternative housing options. For students, especially from the more disadvantaged sections of society, for whom the loss of on-campus housing meant homelessness, this was an essential and comforting measure.

99.5% of institutions -- all but three from the survey -- suspended on-campus classes and moved instruction to virtual venues.

Institutions also reported a steep drop in the continued participation of international students in on-campus instruction in the Spring. 31% of institutions surveyed indicated that approximately 3,100 students were not able to come to their campus this spring as a result of COVID-19 restrictions. However, this represented only a small percentage (0.6%) of the total international student community on these campuses. Most students were already on campus at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak.

These institutions reported that over 251,000 international students were on their campuses in spring 2020. Since the outbreak, 18,551 international students left the campuses. The vast majority of students (92%) from these institutions, however, has remained in the US, either on campus, or at another location in the country.

The surveyed institutes also reported that over 22,000 of their students were studying abroad at the time of the COVID-19 outbreak. Over 17,700 of these students were evacuated. Most of American students abroad were studying in European countries deeply affected by COVID-19, including the United Kingdom, Italy, and Spain.

As it becomes clear that COVID-19 will have an extended life and impact, American universities have radically modified their summer plans. 76% of the surveyed institutions reported that instruction in summer 2020 will be virtual.

As we enter the summers, institutions remain uncertain about their fall plans. 85% of surveyed institutions in the IIE report note that they have not decided on their mode of instruction in the fall. However, 88% of institutions anticipate that international student enrollment will decline in academic year 2020/21. 30% of institutions have predicted a substantial decrease.

70% of institutions noted they expect a section of international students would be delayed in their arrival on campus for the fall semester of 2020, including some who would fail to arrive altogether. A smaller subset of institutions provided specific estimates of how many international students they expect to be impacted. The IIE analysis indicated that approximately 16% of their international student population would not be able to join them for on-campus instruction.

Predictably, study-abroad programs have been heavily impacted. 93% of study-abroad programs have been cancelled or partially cancelled for summer 2020. However, 74% of study-abroad programs are still-undecided about their fall structure. They are likely to be impacted by travel-related restrictions potentially imposed by the United States and other countries involved.

All Higher Education experts and surveyors are keenly watching institutional plans for the fall semester. The Chronicle of Higher Education has deployed a special task force to track institutions’ plans of reopening in the fall. Their report, however, depicts a slightly different picture. According to their live updates, as of now, 65% of US institutions are planning in-person instruction in the fall. 6% are planning online classes, while another 6% are planning a hybrid model. 10% are waiting to decide. 11% are considering a whole range of scenarios, while 2.1% are planning the use of virtual links.

Anxious times continue for Indian students planning higher education in the US in fall 2020.

(The author would like to thank Vivek Mansukhani, HEAD, IIE India, for making the information available)

[Saikat Majumdar writes about arts, literature, and higher education, and is the author of several books, including, College: Pathways of Possibility. @_saikatmajumdar.]