The Trump administration announced this week that international students in the United States must take in-person classes this fall or they will have to leave the country or transfer to another college — a decision that is being roundly criticized by schools, legislators, education groups and others.
President Trump has repeatedly called for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education to open up as part of his effort to reopen the entire country. At a White House event on Tuesday about reopening schools safely, he blasted colleges that were offering only remote classes, and said he would put pressure on governors to reopen K-12 schools.
Colleges and universities have been announcing their fall plans for reopening with a number of different looks. Some, such as Purdue University, are bringing all students back for in-person classes. Others, such as the University of Southern California, are asking students to stay at home and take online classes. And Harvard University said it will allow students to live in dormitories on campus but only online classes would be offered.
The administration’s move has prompted dozens of condemnations. Amherst College, for example, issued a statement saying, “We are baffled by what we consider a terrible decision, and we condemn it.”
Peter McPherson, president of the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, said in a statement: “The administration’s new policies for international students studying in the U.S. during the covid-19 pandemic are incredibly unfair, harmful, and unworkable. We are in unchartered and unprecedented times. Rather than extending appropriate flexibility, the federal government is imposing rigid, impractical rules about how instruction can be delivered to international students.”
Even before the announcement, it was clear that the administration was moving against international students, who pour billions of dollars every year into the U.S. economy.
This post looks at the consequences of the decision. It was written by David Coleman and Ted Mitchell. Coleman is chief executive officer of the College Board. Mitchell is president of the American Council of Education and a former president of Occidental College as well as an undersecretary in the Education Department under President Barack Obama.
By David Coleman and Ted Mitchell
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced this week that international students already enrolled in U.S. colleges and living in the United States could be deported if their college classes go fully online this fall. This senseless rule makes international students the victim of colleges’ efforts to keep instruction going while protecting faculty, staff and students.
Higher education institutions face impossible pressure already in determining their opening policies for the fall. Many campuses plan to open with a hybrid model that incorporates both online and in-person instruction with at least some students living on campus, while some have already set out plans for mostly remote instruction. They are doing so with the safety and health of their students and staff and the local community as their top priority, realizing that covid-19 could change even the best-laid plans later this fall.
ICE’s announcement is either an attempt to bully colleges into having classes in person throughout the fall no matter what public health considerations might call for or a cruel stroke to disenfranchise international students.
Making America inhospitable to international students is wrong for higher education and for our country. Some 1 million international students attend U.S. colleges and universities annually, contributing greatly to this country’s intellectual and cultural vibrancy.
They also yield an estimated economic impact of $41 billion and support more than 450,000 U.S. jobs.
Every Republican administration in recent memory has understood the importance of international students, and the Trump administration has indicated in the past that it too understands the value of the United States being the destination of choice for the world’s most talented students and scholars. That is why this guidance is both disappointing and counterproductive.
International students are an important part of our institutions’ global missions and contribute to the education and research activities that make U.S. higher education the envy of the world. They also often pay full tuition. The immediate effect of this action will be to constrain college budgets further and reduce financial aid to students at a time when all universities are under tremendous financial pressure.
We urge the administration to rethink its position. No student, including international students, should be made unnecessary casualties in already tragic circumstances.
To be clear, the students now at risk of deportation are already studying and living here; they have received visas and passed all security and other protocols. We would kick out these students with no benefit to the United States while striking an immediate blow to our economy and lasting damage to the reputation of American higher education.
No family and no country will forget if their students are summarily banished during a pandemic; it is the opposite of hospitality and decency, and it will stain us for years to come.
(Correction: Earlier version said David Coleman is president of the College Board. He is chief executive officer.)