- By Joy Santamarina
The uncertain future of international students
It has been more than a hundred days since the first confirmed case of Covid-19 on Guam. From having a lockdown to slowly easing its way back to normal, or what most call “the new normal,” Guam is still reeling from the full impact of the virus. Businesses, especially tourism, obviously got hit. Much has to be done to revive the economy and ensure Guam stays safe amid the continuing increase of cases, locally and globally.
As the U.S. government struggles with handling this pandemic, certain new policies have been put in place to try to address the issues at hand. One such policy was announced July 6, which impacts the status of all international students studying in U.S. universities. The new directive would strip international students of their U.S. visas if their coursework is entirely online. The measure seems to be an effort to pressure universities into reopening their gates and abandoning online-only coursework, which has been announced by some universities, at least for their fall semesters.
At the University of Guam, most classes will be held online this coming semester while certain classes will be held in a hybrid format, according to Jonas Macapinlac, chief marketing and communications officer. Some classes will meet face-to-face only if it is absolutely necessary. An announcement has been made in this light and students can access their course schedules and course delivery methods online.
However, Macapinlac said, “We are still assessing the impact of this new policy from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and Student and Exchange Visitor Program.”
Based on 2019’s Fanuchanan semester, only 1 percent of UOG’s student population is represented by non-resident students. While this may not be much in terms of numbers, these students normally pay double the tuition rate that resident students pay. Besides regular course international students, UOG typically has more than 5,000 international students from Asia participating in short-term English Adventure Program and English Language Institute every year. “Because of the pandemic, we haven’t been able to host these programs since March. Our Global Learning and Engagement Department, which hosts the English Adventure Program, the English Language Institute, and other international programs estimates that it will lose about $600,000 in revenues from these programs due to the pandemic,” Macapinlac added.
While tuition account for only about 15 percent of UOG’s total revenues (the other sources include GovGuam appropriation, federal grants and contracts, auxiliary services and Endowment Foundation), UOG has been hit by the pandemic just the same. “The impact has been significant since the public health emergency started – particularly from an academic standpoint. As with other education institutions, UOG has been holding classes online since March. Our faculty and staff, and specially our students, have had to make significant adjustments,” he added.
However, UOG is pleased that the big change has been handled well by both their students and faculty, and they were able to confer degrees to 360 graduates last May.
Most universities across the United States are in the same predicament. Even Ivy League universities such as Harvard, Princeton and Yale have already announced that their fall semesters will be held mostly, if not all, online.
A lawsuit has been filed seeking a temporary restraining order and injunction against the government’s new policy that would result in the revocation of student visas.
Harvard’s president, Lawrence S. Bacow, called the Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s new rule “cruel and reckless.” In a statement, Bacow said, “It appears that it was designed purposely to place pressure on the colleges and universities to open their on-campus classrooms for in-person instruction this fall, without regard to concerns for the health and safety of students, instructors and others.”
The next few weeks will be crucial as UOG meets to assess the situation and further details for its international students. In the meantime, international students are holding their breath and hoping for the best. Studying abroad on a visa always brings with it some complications. An unexpected change just weeks before classes start brings about added worry on leases, travel, academics, expenses, and jobs to name a few. All these make a precarious situation even more so because of the pandemic.