The American College Health Association has singled out international students as a US campus population that has been “disproportionately” affected by the coronavirus pandemic.
ACHA published guidelines last month to help higher education institutions support their most vulnerable populations of students who are impacted by the pandemic and the ensuing economic downturn.
“Without support of families within the area, they are at high risk for isolation”
According to the guidelines, international students face a number of challenges during this global pandemic – these include not being able to return to their home countries and facing issues with visa offices travel restrictions.
“They may not be English proficient or adept in advocating for themselves. Without the support of families within the area, they are at high risk for isolation, particularly during the shelter in place phase of the pandemic,” the guidance said.
Students who have to remain enrolled in their home countries “cannot re-create the immersive living and learning experience of the campus”, according to ACHA.
Other issues with distance learning noted by ACHA include time zone differences, inadequate internet access, and potential censorship of the classroom discussions that create academic barriers.
International students are particularly vulnerable as seeking care may be “considered stigmatising and perceived as a sign of weakness”.
In July, the international education industry reacted in shock to new guidance which effectively banned international students from studying fully online courses while remaining in the US.
While the SEVP guidance was rescinded, its impact on international students’ sense of security was noted by ACHA.
“The recent chaos triggered by the ruling and then the rescinding of the requirement for international students to attend in-person classes or lose their student visa status is another example of the instability and uncertainty they confront.
“Uncertainty increases stress and anxiety and the need for mental health resources,” the guidance said.
Now ACHA is offering suggestions for how international students in the US can be supported. It is recommending that institutions identify individuals on campus who can serve as a resource for international students and assist with financial aid, health insurance, visas, student services, and tech support.
The guidelines also suggest that institutions should develop asynchronous lectures to provide greatest time zone flexibility and provide common and essential patient education, prevention/health initiatives, and resource documents in the top 10 languages based on student enrolment and community demographics.