Of the 520 HEIs surveyed – representing more than 500,000 international students – some 18% said they saw a “substantial decline” in applications for the academic year 2020/21 compare to the previous year. A further 18% saw a “slight decline”, and 16% reported “some decline in applications”.

“There is a significant population of international students who would like to attend a US institution in the fall”

Just one-quarter (26%) indicated application data that was about the same as last year.

According to Open Doorsinternational students make up 5.5% of the student body at US HEIs. In 2018/19, over one million international students were in the country, with half of these students coming from China and India.

The report is the third in IIE’s Covid-19 Snapshot Survey series, and is based on data collected between July 9-24, just prior to the since rescinded ICE guidance that would have barred international students from taking online courses in-country during fall 2020 semester.

The data revealed that among 286 reporting institutions, 57,555 international students have accepted enrolment thus far in fall 2020, and an additional 4,488 have deferred to the spring semester and beyond.

“While this is by no means indicative of all fall 2020 enrolments, this figure tells us that there is a significant population of international students who would like to attend a US institution in the fall,” noted report author and IIE’s Head of Research, Evaluation & Learning, Mirka Martel.

However, even if international students accept enrolment in fall, Martel explained, the question remains whether they will be able to come to the US by the start of the academic semester and whether their institution will be providing in-person instruction.

As a result, “the majority of the surveyed institutions (87%) said they are providing international students with the option to defer enrolment to spring 2021”.

But while virtual enrolment will likely be the reality for both US and international students in the fall semester, 90% of HEIs said they expect there will be difficulties associated with implementing virtual enrolment for international students.

Image: IIE

Among those that have announced changes to upcoming academic calendars, 84% anticipate ending the fall 2020 semester early in preparation for a possible second wave of Covid-19, and are also implementing various prevention measures to stop the spread of the disease among students and faculty.

“We found that many institutions are indicating that they may end by the Thanksgiving holiday,” explained Martel.

In IIE’s May survey, 92% of international students from surveyed institutions were reported to have remained in the US for the spring, whether on campus or in another location.

According to the latest report, over 40,000 international students remained enrolled on campus in summer 2020, most of whom had continued enrolment in courses from the spring.

“It is important to note that this total does not reflect international students who may have stayed in the United States over the summer on their student visa but were not on campus,” explained Martel.

The vast majority (91%) of institutions surveyed said they anticipate that the majority of international students who were enrolled and remained in the US during the summer will continue their studies in the fall.

“Institutions are prioritising promotion of study abroad programs in future semesters”

In addition to the international students already on campus, institutions estimated an additional 7,297 new or continuing students enrolled for the summer semester were not able to come to the US to attend classes.

To best support these students, institutions surveyed said they offered options including enrolling in classes online (58%), deferment to the fall (40%) or spring (39%) semesters or beyond, or refunds (10%).

Nine in 10 (92%) HEIs said they will have a new instruction approach in the fall 2020 semester, with 87% of institutions planning to offer hybrid instruction with approaches ranging from limited in-person instruction and restricted class size to allowing in-person instruction for certain classes.

With regards study abroad programs, over 79% of colleges and universities expect a substantial decline in study abroad numbers for the academic year, while 18% expect some decline.

Only 1% of institutions expect study abroad numbers to remain the same and 2% indicated an expected increase.

But despite a significant decline in such programs for fall 2020, 84% of institutions said they continue to plan study abroad programs to some extent for future semesters.

“The resilience of US study abroad shows that while programs are currently cancelled, institutions are prioritising promotion of study abroad programs in future semesters,” said Martel.

“Once travel restrictions in the United States and other countries lift, US higher education institutions will need to prioritise study abroad options for US students and scholars, filling the temporary decrease that may have been created by the Covid-19 pandemic.”

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