ICE scraps in-person class mandate for international students, CC joined litigation

Plus, how colleges and universities are planning 'in tents' teaching for fall

Good morning, and happy Thursday. On this pre-pandemic date last year, members of the Colorado College class of 2023 were gathering for a summer welcome party in Washington, D.C. (In lieu of welcome parties this year, incoming CC first-years are introducing themselves on Instagram.)

Today, we explain the changing federal policies for international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities. Also, we break down what classrooms at some institutions could look like in the fall. (SPOILER: 🤹🏻)

➡️ICYMI: Yesterday, we spoke with a CC alumna who is helping research antiviral SARS-CoV-2 treatments. Another CC grad explained to us his journey with “long-haul” coronavirus.

📣Our resident microbiologist Phoebe Lostroh will be speaking with Tia Tummino ’16 and two other CC alumni in a CC Conversation on Facing the Pandemic. You can find more information about the webinar here.

International students can now take online classes in the fall without jeopardizing their visa statuses

This week was a rollercoaster for international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities.

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement made a stunning announcement that international students would have to take some in-person courses at their colleges and universities in the fall in order to remain in the United States. If a school wasn’t offering in-person classes, international students would have to transfer to somewhere that did have a face-to-face component or leave the country, ICE wrote in the news release.

In reaction, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology swiftly filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government; Colorado College and 179 other higher-ed institutions joined the litigation in support.

“We are disappointed and angered by these policies, which contradict our efforts to eliminate structural inequities, bias, and injustice,” wrote Colorado College acting co-presidents Mike Edmonds and Robert Moore in a recent statement to the CC community.

On Tuesday, the Trump administration rescinded the policy. Similar to exemptions made for last spring, international students can stay in the country this fall even if all their classes are online.

Whiplash much? You might ask, where does that leave us now? The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project had two phone conversations before Tuesday’s announcement with Allen Bertsche, Colorado College’s Director of Global Education, to break down the changing policies and how they would have affected Colorado College students. 

📜 First, let’s explain F-1 and M-1 visas

To study full-time in the U.S., nonimmigrant international students looking to attend an academic institution can apply for an F-1 visa, and international students looking to attend a vocational program can apply for an M-1 visa. In pre-pandemic years, those students could not take online classes, according to Bertsche. But after the coronavirus closed college campuses across the country in early March, ICE announced the agency would make an exception for the spring semester: “Given the extraordinary nature of the COVID-19 emergency, [the Student and Exchange Visitor Program] will allow F-1 and/or M-1 students to temporarily count online classes towards a full course of study.”

“I think most of us anticipated that what they would say is, ‘The rules that we put in because of COVID last spring will remain the same this year,’” Bertsche said. 

✈️ How would the policy have affected CC international students?

Initially, CC interpreted the policy to mean that as long as international students took one block with in-person components during the fall, their immigration status wouldn’t be in jeopardy. However, after conversations with representatives from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Bertsche clarified how the nature of taking one-course-at-a-time on the Block Plan would affect the policy: international students would have had to enroll in courses every block with a face-to-face component. CC is offering four types of classes in the fall: in-person, online, hybrid, and flex. Any in-person, hybrid, or flex course would have met the requirements.

If CC were to transition to online-only classes during the fall semester, they would likely encourage international students to return home, if they were able to. Students who wanted to stay on campus could petition to do so and would no longer be required to continue in-person activities to maintain their F-1 status. 

“It’s the in-person coursework that guarantees the government that the student is located on the campus where they're a student,” Bertsche said. “What they basically told us was, because you are on the Block Plan and because you teach one class at a time, if a student took two blocks in person and two blocks online, we would not be able to guarantee that while they were on those blocks online that they ... were on our campus.” 

CC has a “decent number” of international students who are overseas right now, many of whom might have trouble returning to the States in the fall because of entry restrictions

“New students who are just starting at CC, they essentially have the easiest situation because they haven’t started their visa status yet,” Bertsche said. “So whenever they arrive, we can start that for them.”

💵What else was CC working on to support international students?

In addition to a COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund, the college added an option on the Give to CC page for donors to put money toward the International Student Assistance Fund. 

“We’re putting together a fund that will be available for those students that have additional costs, because of the combination of COVID and immigration,” Bertsche said. 

Bertsche said his office is also working with students who are overseas and may not be able to return to campus for the fall. New students can take CC100 and CC120 online and then enroll in remote classes for Blocks 3 and 4, and returning students have the option to complete the semester online.

Welcome to the Circus: Higher-ed gets creative for outdoor classrooms

What’s on the back-to-school shopping list for some college presidents? Hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment, plexiglass shields, and (wait for it) circus tents.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged higher-education leaders in May guidelines to increase the circulation of outdoor air in classrooms, by opening doors and windows, for instance. Some schools are taking it further — by building outdoor classrooms in tents and other open spaces.

🎪Here’s a roundup of campuses offering an in-tents learning environment.🎪

Amherst College in Massachusetts is fully embracing outdoor learning for the fall. The college is installing 20 tents across the 1,000-acre campus, said president Biddy Martin. The college will generally use the tents for seminar-style classes, but indoor spaces are also available in case of bad weather. The tents will allow social distancing, and workers will clean high-touch areas during the day in addition to daily deep cleaning. 

Claremont McKenna College in California is also planning to teach and learn in the great outdoors this fall. The college will have “increased reliance on larger classrooms and outdoor spaces, including under tents,” wrote president Hiram Chodosh. The Los Angeles Times reported in April the college could possibly acquire more outdoor furniture for the campus. 

Rice University in Texas is building nine new outdoor classrooms this summer, five of which are open-sided circus tents. The other four are “semi-permanent structures” that will be near dormitories in an open field, reported The New York Times. The university hopes to brighten up the place by encouraging professors and students to decorate with murals and video projections. (We have to wonder about face painting.)

University of Massachusetts at Amherst is planning to teach almost all courses remotely, but students are allowed to return to campus. In addition to daily dining services, there may be some new additions, including a falafel bar under a tent outside, according to the college’s director of dining services. 

Williams College is NOT clowning around. The private liberal arts college in Massachusetts wrote in a recent report that they expect to have plenty of “suitable spaces” for teaching the in-person parts of their courses. The college will cap each classroom at a maximum capacity of 30 students, and it will transform some other rooms into temporary classrooms. “We do not recommend the purchase or use of tents,” administrators wrote. Circus or otherwise.

About the CC COVID-19 Reporting Project

The CC COVID-19 Reporting Project is a student-faculty collaboration by Colorado College student journalists Miriam Brown and Arielle Gordon, Visiting Assistant Professor of Journalism Corey Hutchins, Assistant Professor of English Najnin Islam, and Journalism Institute Director Steven Hayward. Work by Phoebe Lostroh, Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at CC and National Science Foundation Program Director in Genetic Mechanisms, Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, will appear from time to time, as will infographics by Colorado College students Rana Abdu, Aleesa Chua, Sara Dixon, Jia Mei, and Lindsey Smith.

The project seeks to provide frequent updates about CC and other higher education institutions during the pandemic by providing original reporting, analysis, interviews with campus leaders, and context about what state and national headlines mean for the CC community. 

📬 Enter your email address to subscribe and get the newsletter in your inbox each time it comes out. You can reach us with questions, feedback, or news tips by emailing ccreportingproject@gmail.com.