• Nishita Uppuluri

College and Corona: A Confusing Duo

“Some college students face stay-at-home orders as local leaders try to control Covid-19 spread”, “COVID-19 Challenges Continue for Schools and Colleges”, and “Colleges and Universities: The New COVID Hot Spots” are all headlines that hardly surprising most people. Given that the COVID situation seems to change every week, it absolutely makes sense that colleges would implement very strict rules. Despite attempts at clarifying guidelines, navigating college life has just gotten substantially more complicated.


In New York, one college campus, SUNY Oneonta, has already closed. Going against the rules, five unnamed students threw a party in their dorm. The college immediately suspended these five students, shut down some major clubs and organizations, established three on-campus testing centers, and hired 70 contact tracers (people who assist in quarantining patients). However, it was already too late to contain the virus on campus: about 500 positive test results ensued, five times more than the number of positive tests needed to shut down a college campus in New York State. Suny Oneonta became officially closed down for the rest of its fall semester.


Positive COVID cases at colleges is definitely not an issue unique to New York. Partygoers were kicked off of the campus of Ohio State University, and both the University of South Carolina and the University of Alabama reportedly had 1,000 positive tests each.

Thus, many states have put into place regulations to mitigate the spread of the disease. In California, most of the UCs are giving students the option of remote learning, as are the California State universities. In Florida, a state which had (and still has) one of the highest percentages of positive COVID tests in the nation, classes are exclusively online, while housing has been massively cut down. Even if masks still aren’t mandatory in all states, nearly every college and university in the country has a mask mandate.


Stringent COVID policies have also negatively impacted student immigration and the number of foreign students enrolled in American colleges and universities. One million foreign students enroll in America’s higher education institutions every year, making up 5.5% of the total college population, but, like many other facets of life in light of COVID, this situation is changing as well.


While it was in the books since last December, President Trump’s plan to require international students to enroll in all in-person classes only began to become a reality in July due to COVID. To summarize the policy, if international students didn’t want to attend classes in-person, they would be deported back to their home countries. The reasoning behind this policy was, as stated by the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, Kenneth T. Cuccinelli, “If they’re not going to be a student or they’re going to be 100 percent online, then they don’t have a basis to be here.”


This policy received considerable backlash, since without these international students, hundreds of thousands of careers could be jeopardized, and colleges would be losing out on up to three billion dollars. Harvard, MIT, and the attorney generals of 20 states sued, quickly leading to the rescinding of this policy a week later.


This wasn’t the only measure aimed at international students, however. Chinese students make up the largest percentage of foreign students in the U.S., but in May, President Trump canceled the visas of all Chinese graduate students with connections to the Chinese military. Like the plan requiring all international students to go to classes in person, this idea had been floating around for a while, but has only recently become actual policy. To explain President Trump’s reasoning behind the plan, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Look, not every Chinese student who is here is working on behalf of or at the behest of, the direction of the Chinese Communist Party...but it’s something President Trump has taken a serious, serious look at.”


These two policies haven’t left a great taste in the mouths of many prospective foreign students. Coupled with the fact that higher education institutions in the U.S. trend higher in price than those in countries such as Canada, the US may undercut its attractiveness among degree- seekers abroad.


Additionally, the college application process has been affected by COVID. For several years, the acceptance rates of many universities, especially the highly selective ones, have been dipping. However, 2020 saw a reversal to this trend. While this is in part due to the foreign student situation described above, it is also due to fears of travelling to other parts of the nation due to COVID. According to CNBC, “This spring, 6 of the 8 Ivy Leagues, including Harvard and Yale, reported an uptick in acceptance rates for the Class of 2024.”


Acceptance rates haven’t just increased in 2020; the admissions process has undergone a marked change. Following lawsuits regarding the closure of several test centers across California due to COVID, the UCs have decided to go either completely test optional or to not put much emphasis on SAT and ACT scores. Many other colleges have followed suit as well, taking a more “holistic” view of applications that emphasizes GPA, extracurriculars, and character.. .


COVID has changed everything we’ve ever known, from how we socialize with people, to how we attend schools and colleges. Everyday is unpredictable -- will international students continue to avoid the US? Will college admission rates continue to rise? Will students follow COVID rules and guidelines, or will there be increasing numbers of super-spreader fiestas? Will colleges all end up closing in the near future? We’ll just have to wait and see.