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Updated: June 30, 2020

CT colleges will see fewer high-paying international students this fall amid COVID-19 fears

Photo | Contributed The University of Hartford expects to see its international student enrollment drop by as much as 25% in the fall 2020 semester.

As Connecticut colleges prepare to reopen for in-person instruction in the coming months amid the coronavirus pandemic, an important — and lucrative — part of the student body won’t be fully returning to campus: international students.

Some local colleges say they are projecting double-digit percentage declines in international pupils this fall due to student visa and travel restrictions from COVID-19, and concerns over civil unrest in the United States, school administrators said.

Photo | Contributed
International students at the University of Hartford.

Students from China, where coronavirus spawned and more than 35% of international students in Connecticut hailed from in 2019, are facing particular barriers to returning.

That will further exacerbate colleges’ coronavirus-induced financial woes because international students typically pay full price for tuition and housing, while more than 90% of the total U.S. college student population receives some kind of discount, like in-state tuition or grants, said Martin Van Der Werf, the education policy researcher at the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce.

Connecticut colleges last year collectively hosted nearly 15,000 international students, who spent almost $589 million in the state on tuition as well as accommodations, dining, retail, transportation and other expenses, according to data collected by the Institute of International Education (IIE).

“If you have a huge drop in your international students, you’re going to have a huge drop in revenue,” Van Der Werf said.

College administrators say the situation is problematic, but not dire. They are also taking various steps to facilitate the continuing education of foreign students having difficulty getting visas or flights to return to campus, including offering tuition discounts for remote instruction and partnering with higher-education institutions in other countries.

These challenges are swirling after Connecticut colleges in recent weeks have announced plans to cautiously reopen their campuses for the fall semester, with significant precautions to prevent the transmission of coronavirus.

Most schools plan to reopen in late August or early September for hybrid in-person and virtual coursework, before closing campuses after Thanksgiving and converting the rest of the semester to remote learning.

The University of Hartford expects its international student enrollment of about 500 last semester to decline by as much as 25% this fall, while UConn projects about 700 of its 3,800 international students might not return to campus.

Yuhang Rong, Associate Vice President for Global Affairs, UConn

Yuhang Rong, UConn’s associate vice president for global affairs, said his school has taken multiple steps to address the problem, including partnering with two universities in China — where about 88% of UConn’s international undergraduate students are from — so that its pupils there can continue to take courses while still maintaining enrollment.

As part of the deal, UConn paid about $2.4 million each to East China Normal University and the University of Nottingham so that its Chinese students can take courses at the schools.

The students earn credits from and pay tuition to UConn. That’s significant because UConn estimated it would lose between $9.4 million and $13.5 million in fiscal 2021 if the school ceded between 40% and 65% of its international students.

More broadly, the school is projecting a deficit next fall of at least $47 million, but it could go as high as $129 million, school administrators recently told the board of trustees.

“We are asking them to provide course instruction, and residence halls for any of our students who can’t make it to Connecticut in the fall,” Rong said. “It’s no different than any UConn student studying abroad.”

Additionally, UConn is tapping into its alumni network in China and other countries, to help students familiarize themselves with the area, and organize social gatherings, Rong said.

Rong also sees a bright spot in that UConn currently has the same number of deposits from international pupils as it did last year, a sign that most students are generally not canceling plans to attend.

Civil unrest concerns

R.J. McGivney, Associate Vice President for Continuing Education and Institutional Effectiveness, University of Hartford

The University of Hartford, which has enacted voluntary furloughs and pay cuts in response to COVID-19-related financial losses, is offering up to 50% off tuition to international students who take classes online after they have applied for and been denied visas on two occasions and therefore will not be allowed in the country, said R.J. McGivney, UHart’s associate vice president for institutional effectiveness and continuing education. (The school is charging $40,490 for tuition and another $16,270 for housing and fees during the 2020-2021 academic year.)

And while UHart implements various safety measures to prevent coronavirus from landing on its campus this fall, it’s not just the threat of the deadly disease that is making international students nervous, he said.

“It’s the other civil unrest in the U.S. creating some angst among international students,” McGivney said. “Parents are concerned with sending students with the current situation.”

Van Der Werf, of the Center on Education and the Workforce, said this dynamic is playing out at schools across the U.S. Recent demonstrations and violent crackdowns by authorities in the country have added to the perception of the U.S. as a dangerous country, which had been building amid heavy international coverage of mass shootings here.

Before COVID-19, lower-cost colleges and universities in countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand were already seeing increases in international students, Van Der Werf said. He believes the number of international pupils attending U.S. higher-education institutions peaked in the 2018-2019 academic year, when almost 1.1 million foreign students enrolled in schools here.

“I think that we may never see the same number of international students that we had at the very peak,” Van Der Werf said, adding that while larger universities with name recognition probably won’t take much of a hit, smaller ones will likely be affected. “They probably need to start planning — if they aren’t already — to replace that revenue.”

A sign of optimism

Adrienne Oddi, Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, Trinity College

However, Trinity College, a small liberal-arts college in Hartford, said it has actually seen a small increase in international student enrollment, said Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid Adrienne Oddi.

About 15% of Trinity’s 2,200 students come from outside the U.S., Oddi said. Like UConn, Trinity is partnering with a Chinese university — Fudan University — to allow students in China to take Trinity courses in their home country.

Oddi said Trinity’s small size could benefit the college because it can more easily adjust to providing international students the services they need.

“I think the economic impact is certainly a concern, but just given our size and the options we’ve been exploring and our ability to be flexible and nimble, we’re definitely optimistic as far as our international students are concerned,” she said.

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