First Thought

Insights drawn weekly from Karin Fischer’s global-education newsletter, latitude(s). Subscribe here.

By all rights, this should be a hopeful moment for those who work to recruit and support international students.

Vaccinations have picked up, with President Biden pledging that most adults in America should be inoculated against Covid-19 by the Fourth of July, well in advance of the new semester. Applications from abroad are up for the fall — although not all colleges are seeing equal growth in interest and there are trouble spots, most notably China.

Rather than optimism, what I hear is worry — about ongoing consular closures, visa backlogs, and travel restrictions. The current situation is the antithesis of the mantra of the baseball movie Field of Dreams, “If you build it, they will come.” What if students want to come, but they can’t make it here?

Carol Kim is among those anxiously monitoring visa-appointment wait times. Kim is the senior vice provost for enrollment management and strategic partnerships at the New School, where international students make up nearly 40 percent of the student body, drawn to its top programs in design, music, and the performing arts.

This year, 250 New School students, most in their first year, studied at partner universities in China, France, Israel, and South Korea. Students were able to be part of a New School cohort, while using studio and performance facilities at the local institutions.

But if remote learning has to stretch into another year, the model simply isn’t sustainable, Kim said. It’s too much of a burden for the partners, who absorbed between 20 and 150 New School students apiece. “We can’t overstay our welcome,” she said. Students may also not have the patience for a second year of online studies.

That means the New School, like many colleges, must bank on getting international students back to campus. Yet, around the world, more than half of the U.S. consulates remain closed or are only scheduling emergency appointments, including, as of last week, those in China and India. Elsewhere, the appointments are phantoms, canceled as consular officials struggle to catch up.

Read more from Karin in this week’s latitude(s).

The Reading List

  • The House of Representatives passed legislation to give undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children legal protections and a path to citizenship.
  • Students at New York University Shanghai say they were wrongfully detained and roughed up by Chinese plainclothes police.
  • A former international student says the University of California at Berkeley failed to notify him of the correct filing deadline for his OPT work authorization, leading to his deportation. He’s suing.
  • Students in South Africa plan to shut down public universities unless the government agrees to forgive student debt and allow free registration for the 2021 academic year.

Featured on

“It’s not that the faculty have grown soft, it’s that the students are working.”

—Richard Arum, dean of the School of Education at the University of California at Irvine, on why students are studying more during the pandemic.

Arum and a team of researchers tracked more than 2,000 students through surveys, academic performance, and other data, evaluating the impact of Covid-19 on how students learn and grow in college. Read more from Beth McMurtrie in The Chronicle: “Good Grades, Stressed Students.”