The Impact of COVID-19 Virus on Higher Education

“It’s only when the tide goes out, that you learn who’s been swimming naked.”

Warren Buffett


Given the cornucopia of bad news over the past five months, it’s refreshing to acknowledge when something goes right. In last week’s bulletin I wrote about the proposed U.S. federal rules prohibiting international students to legally enroll in fall classes if the classes were only taught on-line. For seven days we all chased after this shiny object and planned for the worst. And then on July 15th, U.S. District Judge Allison Burroughs wrote:

“I have been informed by the parties that they have come to a resolution. The government has agreed to rescind the July 6, 2020 policy directive.”

The voices of 200 American colleges and universities in 17 states prevailed. 



It’s too early for anyone to define the reimagined student but it’s not too early to suggest a few attributes of the post COVID-19 college and university student.

The Reimagined Student:

Will enroll in schools with well-established health protocols

Will enroll in schools that have a proven track record of putting students first

Will enroll in schools closer to home

Will enroll in schools that offer year-long classes

Will enroll in schools that offer a reasonable schedule of in-person and online instruction

Will enroll in schools that can map out a reasonable schedule for degree completion at the time of acceptance and deposit

Will enroll in schools that assign academic and financial aid advisors at the time of acceptance and deposit

Will enroll in schools that provide accepted students with the approximate cost of degree completion 

Will enroll in schools with robust career counseling and internship programs and

Will enroll in schools that assign alumni mentors to accepted and deposited students. 


Rice University in Houston, Texas is building nine large outdoor classrooms. The university has purchased five open-sided circus tents and another four semi-permanent structures and will offer specific classes outdoors during the fall semester.

Fairfield University in Connecticut offered 1,150 accepted incoming students the opportunity to take an online summer class. As of July 6th, 887 incoming students enrolled in the class. Perhaps “summer melt” will not be a big issue for Fairfield?

Bentley University in Massachusetts is offering a free summer class as part of a flexible Trimester Program that will begin in the fall. Perhaps Bentley has already acknowledged that the previous academic calendar is no longer relevant?


The latest issue of Foreign Affairs magazine focuses on the reshaping of the global order with China taking the lead, including being the world’s leader in education

 Professor Youmin Xi, executive president of Xi’an Jiaotong-Liverpool University, speaking at the Going Global Conference said:

“In the face of crisis and new situations, individuals and organizations are presented with valuable opportunities to boldly innovate and plan for future transformation.”

Prior to COVID-19 more than 600,000 Chinese students studied worldwide. Many colleges and universities, including schools in the U.S., UK, Australia and Canada, depended on the revenue from these students to meet their enrollment and fiscal goals.

But this prior trend of Chinese students may change. Geopolitical disputes with the U.S., UK, Australia, and Canada, may impact the number of Chinese students studying in those countries in the future. 

U.S.-China relations, in particular, are in free fall and Richard Haas, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, predicts that the situation will worsen the in the months to come.

We are naïve to think that even after the virus is contained, Chinese students will enroll in the same numbers as before. This cohort of students simply has too many options. Of course top tier schools will continue to be of interest to Chinese students and parents but the virus has left Chinese families economically insecure and politically wary of being educated in western countries.

Chinese student mobility has, in my opinion, moved from the Atlantic to the Indian ocean.


“It’s 2022. What Does Life Look Like?” David Leonhardt, in his sagacious New York Times article, (July 12,2020), predicts the long-term, negative impact of the virus on several industries, including retail, publishing, restaurants, department stores, cruise ships, theme parks, and colleges and universities. Any industry, the author writes, that depends on close human contact is at risk, and that includes colleges and universities.

But let’s end on a positive note. Emily Oster, a Brown University economist, writes in this same article: “A downturn is an opportunity to revisit inefficiencies.” 

I think it is also a good time to reimagine and plan for what your school will “look like” in the future.

This entry was posted in Colleges, Foreign Students, International Education, International students, Universities by Marguerite Dennis. Bookmark the permalink.

About Marguerite Dennis

Marguerite Dennis has been recruiting internationally for over 25 years, first at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. and then at Suffolk University in Boston, Massachusetts. During that time she was responsible for establishing a branch campus for Suffolk University in Dakar, Senegal and Madrid, Spain. Marguerite increased the international student population at Suffolk University by 193% from 1993 to 2011 and increased the number of study abroad programs by 135%, from 20 to 47. She monitored the recruitment programs for Suffolk University in 20 countries and hired a network of 10 international educational consultants. She signed agreements in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, Kuwait, Germany, Mexico, France and Argentina.

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