Sunday, July 12, 2020

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction


The following appeared as an opinion piece in the Daily Item, 10 July 2020.

DHS Announcement is a Move in the Wrong Direction

On Monday, the Department of Homeland Security announced that international students will be prohibited from staying in the United States if they are enrolled in online-only instruction. This includes a shift to online-only classes in response to changes in the status of the pandemic after a semester begins. On Wednesday morning, Harvard University and MIT jointly filed a lawsuit seeking temporary and permanent injunctions on behalf of their students.

The policy change came with little warning, and it is difficult to understand who benefits from this change. A headline in Tuesday’s New York Times posits that the move was intended as leverage to impel institutions dependent upon international-student revenue to remain open for face-to-face instruction in the Fall.

Like Susquehanna University, many institutions are doing all they can to open their campuses for in-person classes safely, and no institution that opens its classrooms this Fall is going to move to all-online instruction mid-semester unless it is in the best interest of the health of the campus population and that of the surrounding community. If that is the case, how can immediately putting the international members of a student body onto airplanes and sending them around the globe be a compassionate or responsible action?

Allowing those students to have the option of sheltering in place until conditions improve is the ethical approach for the well-being of the students, and it is better business for our nation. There are some countries, like China, that will support visas for students to study in the U.S., but will not allow the same students to enroll in online U.S. programs from home. Under the new DHS mandate, were these students to attend a U.S. institution that temporarily moved fully online, they would be sent home, and the semester would end unfinished.

International students studying in the United States provide remarkable benefits to all our students, they strengthen higher-education institutions, and they are a boon to the U.S. economy:

·      International students diversify our campuses culturally, intellectually, and experientially;
·      They enrich the global awareness and fluency of our domestic students;
·      By educating citizens from around the world, we develop advocates of the U.S. abroad, and many international alumni of U.S. institutions become leaders in their home communities and nations;
·      We have the opportunity to engage some of the best young minds from around the world in our domestic academic enterprise;
·      For many institutions, international enrollments provide significant revenue to support the education of all our students.

In 2018, international students contributed $44.7 billion to the U.S. economy. The initial economic impact is revenue to universities, but these students contribute greatly to the commercial vitality of our surrounding communities and the nation. Sending students home if their programs move online strips that economic opportunity from our communities, and worse, it is affront to young people who have had the courage and passion to travel around the world to learn and who have chosen to invest in those communities as part of the experience.

Just as we all benefit from international students enrolling in the U.S., we are ethically obligated to be good stewards of them as our students. This includes advocating for their ability to complete their courses and their programs, tending to their health and safety as we would our domestic students, and treating them as welcome guests on our campuses and in our nation.

This has been a hallmark of international education in the United States for decades. In the face of our global crisis, the need to support our international students has never been more important. The DHS announcement is a move in the wrong direction.

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A Year Like No Other