Dive Brief: 

  • In response to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s guidance barring international students from staying in the country if they take all online courses next term, colleges are reviewing their fall plans and some may adapt their offerings.
  • At least one school, Hampshire College, has announced it has open spots for international students who are affected by the policy and wish to transfer. Hampshire is planning on a hybrid fall term. 
  • ICE’s guidance could complicate an already fraught recruiting season and have long-term consequences for international enrollment, experts said. 

Dive Insight: 

Federal regulations typically limit how many online classes international students can take each term, but those rules were relaxed earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many higher education leaders expected the flexibility to continue in the fall and were caught off guard when ICE released its guidance earlier this week ⁠— after some colleges already publicized plans for the coming term. 

In response to the policy change, Hampshire College, in Massachusetts, announced it has spots open for international students at other colleges who may have to leave the country. 

ICE’s directive says international students taking only online classes will risk deportation if they don’t leave the country or transfer to a school offering in-person instruction. International students enrolled in colleges offering a mix of online and in-person instruction will be able to take multiple virtual classes, but at least one course must be face-to-face. 

“Because Hampshire has capacity to safely add students this fall, we can offer sanctuary for at least some international students who might otherwise have to leave the United States,” President Ed Wingenbach said in a statement. “We will continue to search for additional ways to counter the destructiveness of this decision.”

Hampshire has room for an additional 50 to 75 international students this fall and has been reaching out to institutions to discuss whether this option would be helpful for their students, a spokesperson for the college said, though she declined to name the institutions. 

A handful of other colleges in Massachusetts announced in recent weeks that they would be going mostly online in the fall. That includes Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which is inviting only seniors and students for whom campus is the best place to learn. Both schools are among those suing the Department of Homeland Security over the ICE policy.

More colleges could step up their recruiting of international students enrolled in schools that will be online this fall, said Joann Ng Hartmann, senior director of international enrollment management and international student and scholar services at NAFSA: Association of International Educators. 

“They recognize that some (students) are in a dire situation,” she said. However, transferring can be a complicated process for international students, and institutions should counsel them on whether it’s advisable, she added.

Colleges are also adapting their plans to the guidance. The University of Arizona announced it is planning to offer in-person courses for international students to comply with the guidance. 

And Emory University may enroll some international students in an existing course on campus to meet the requirement that they take at least one in-person class, Michael Elliott, the dean of the university’s arts and sciences college, told the university’s student newspaperHe did not respond to Education’s Dive request Thursday for more details about the plan.

However, it’s unclear whether such tactics would meet ICE’s new requirements. The American Council on Education, which represents more than 1,700 colleges and other organizations, is seeking more information about how colleges can be placed in the hybrid category, which offers international students more flexibility. 

Meanwhile, some instructors have been exploring their own workarounds. 

Sara Wallace Goodman, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Irvine, said around two dozen students reached out to her after she tweeted that she would hold in-person independent studies with international students affected by the policy.

“I study immigration, so I’m always aware of the recent policy changes,” she said. “This one occurs on my doorstep.” In response to the tweet, instructors from her university and others offered to provide independent studies to international students. 

UC-Irvine may end up implementing something more systematic so every department could offer the option, Wallace Goodman added. A UC-Irvine spokesperson wrote in an email that it is “premature” to say whether the university will implement such a policy but noted that it’s an “issue of discussion.”

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