College Study Abroad Closures Related to COVID-19

As the coronavirus, COVID-19, continues affecting people all over the world, educational plans are being disrupted. Study abroad programs are being suspended and students are unsure if they can make travel plans for summer cultural immersions. 

Many different universities have recently announced plans to suspend current programs, and begin assisting students and staff in their travels back to the U.S., while other programs were cancelled before starting, like Boston University’s Shanghai exchange.

Already Syracuse University officials have closed their study abroad program in Florence, Italy and are helping students return to the United States:

“Concerns for the safety, well-being and free movement of the 342 students in our study abroad program in Florence, Italy, have guided this difficult decision, which was also informed by global health experts,” Steven Bennett, Syracuse’s senior vice president for international programs and academic operations, said in a statement. “We believe this is absolutely necessary to reduce the risk of our students being unable to leave Italy due to Italian containment efforts.”

Inside Higher Ed, February 26, 2020

Additionally, New York University has transitioned all classes for students at the NYU Shanghai campus online, as well as has suspended the study abroad program in Florence, Italy as well. Other universities, Stanford University, Middlebury College, the American University in Rome, Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, Florida International University, Elon University, Gonzaga University, University of Southern California, University of Maryland, Bowdoin College, Towson University and Fairfield University, are restricting the travel of their students in Italy or suspending their study abroad programs. 

According to Inside Higher Ed, similarly, in Asia, colleges like, George Mason University, the State University of New York, University of Utah, are delaying the start or suspending classes at campuses in South Korea. Florida International University also cancelled study abroad programs in South Korea, Singapore, and Japan. 

The cancellation of a study abroad experience, while disappointing, can also potentially disrupt graduation plans. Some college administrators, like at Boston University, University of Maryland, Brown University and New York University, are helping affected students enroll in online courses in the intermediate term and find alternatives, such as summer sessions, for classes which can’t be learned remotely, like biology. Also, in announcements to study abroad participants, college administrators recommend that students contact their academic advisors so they can make arrangements to continue their education. 

Additionally, returning to the U.S. after closing a study abroad program is complex, given travel restrictions, potential financial hardships from the unexpected expense, as well as the loss/refund of fees and tuition. In a quick query, Florida International University and Stanford University are offering financial assistance to affected students for flights home. Brown University officials offered full refunds of program fees and prorated refunds for housing fess for students in the cancelled programs in Bologna, Italy. According to The Stanford Daily, one student returning from Italy, however, speculated that his peers may incur additional financial losses, since they made travel plans to visit other countries in Europe as a part of their study abroad experience. 

Furthermore, as a precaution to stem the spread of COVID-19, some students, like those at Gonzaga University and the University of Maryland, returning from study abroad programs cut short, are being sent to their individual family homes, rather than back to campus. Students are advised to self-quarantine for 14 days, following the CDC guidelines. Thus, remote education, through online sources, may be the only alternative for some students to ensure they continue their education for the spring term. 

Students, as well as their parents, who may be affected by closed or suspended study abroad programs, should be in constant contact with the international programs or study abroad directors at their home campus. As the situation is evolving rapidly, college administrators may be making decisions quickly, as the Brown in Bologna students discovered where on Monday they were advised could stay in Italy, and by Wednesday, administrators were making arrangements for students to return to the U.S. 

While the health and safety of students is number one in the immediate term, also planning for a continuity of education by both educators and students is essential. Forward-thinking students and parents can begin planning for disruptions to an education, should the coronavirus continue evolving and school closures become necessary. Ask K-12 school administrators and college officials alike about continuity plans and how students can continue their education while preserving their health and well-being. Then, everyone can act reasonably and prudently, as the public health issues surrounding the spread of COVID-19 continue evolving. 

For 17 years at Creative Marbles Consultancy, we understand the need for families to make timely decisions about their children’s education. Given the current concerns about coronavirus, we are ready to continue advising families about pressing educational questions, including how they can work with their schools in the event of closure, via an online presence that we have robustly developed over the years, so there is a continuity in your student’s education. Contact us at (916) 457-4090 or for more details.

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About Jill Yoshikawa, Ed M, Partner of Creative Marbles Consultancy

Jill Yoshikawa, EdM, Harvard ’99, a seasoned, 25 year educator and consultant, is meticulous in helping clients navigate all aspects of the educational experience, no matter the level of complexity. She combines educational theory with experience to advise families, schools and educators. A UCSD and Harvard graduate, as well as a former high school teacher, Jill works tirelessly to help her clients succeed.
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