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China Recruitment Disrupted

Survey looks at effect of new coronavirus on Chinese student recruitment and student travel to and from China.

March 5, 2020
 
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More than three-quarters (76 percent) of U.S. colleges said that outreach and recruitment of students from China has been affected by the new coronavirus, according to a survey from the Institute of International Education.

A total of 234 colleges and universities responded to the survey, which focused on student mobility to and from China, where the new coronavirus originated. The survey found that a substantial number of colleges have not made alternative recruitment plans in response to restrictions on travel to and from China. This is significant, as China is the biggest source of international students for U.S. colleges and many colleges depend on Chinese student enrollments to help balance their budgets.

“While some institutions have very robust efforts in place to conduct electronic communications with students as well as virtual webinars and yield events, or to work with local partners and agents, about 20 percent of respondents indicated they do not have current plans in place for alternative recruitment,” Mirka Martel, IIE’s head of research, evaluation and learning, said in a call with members of the media.

Martel said that most institutions are hoping to travel to China after the restrictions are lifted, “although they are aware it will affect enrollment for the 2020-21 academic year.”

Most colleges have seen limited effects on their current Chinese student enrollments. Martel said 87 colleges responding to the survey collectively reported a total of 831 Chinese students enrolled at their institutions this spring who had been affected by travel restrictions related to COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus. This number represents less than 0.4 percent of the total population of Chinese students at responding institutions.

“According to the institutions, the vast majority of enrolled students from China were already on their campuses. Either they had not left for the winter holidays or they had already returned to campus when the travel restrictions went into effect,” Martel said. (One university that had a late start to its spring semester, the University of Delaware, told Inside Higher Ed in February that it had 226 students from China who were unable to return in time for the spring semester.)

For those colleges that did have students from China affected by travel restrictions, the survey found that 46 percent offered options for remote or independent study, 41 percent offered leaves of absence or deferment of enrollment, 38 percent offered online or distance education classes, 9 percent issued refunds, and 8 percent offered the option to study elsewhere.

Most colleges also said they had been offering support for Chinese students on campus, including by providing counseling services and targeted communications, supporting Chinese student groups, and offering a hotline where Chinese students can report any acts of discrimination.

“We maintain close communication daily with our on‐campus Chinese cohort, all of whom returned to our campus prior to the virus outbreak and subsequent restrictions,” one respondent said. “Our goal is to be supportive, concerned and engaged partners during this rough spot for all of us.”

The survey, which was administered Feb. 13 to Feb. 26, also asked about study abroad travel to China. Fifty responding institutions reported they had a total of 405 students studying abroad in China at the time the outbreak started, and 70 percent said they were evacuating students. However, the report on the survey results notes that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention upgraded its advisory on travel to China to its highest level on Feb. 22, four days before the survey closed, so the proportion of colleges that evacuated students from China may be higher. The vast majority of responding institutions -- 94 percent -- said their spring study abroad programs to China have been canceled or postponed.

The situation regarding academic travel has evolved rapidly over the last week as the virus has spread in new areas. Last week, colleges began closing study abroad programs in Italy -- the second-most-popular destination for Americans studying abroad -- and evacuating their students. Italy’s government announced Wednesday that it is closing the nation’s schools and universities through March 15, according to CNBC.

On Monday the CDC issued new guidance telling colleges to "consider" canceling upcoming exchange programs and to "consider" asking current program participants to return to their home countries. A number of colleges have cited the CDC guidance in canceling all study abroad scheduled for spring break and, in some cases, for summer. Colleges that have announced broad cancellations of study abroad programs scheduled for spring break include:

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