To Open or Not to Open – That is the Question!

Snow College Campus

By Bradley J. Cook, President Snow College July 20, 2020.  Higher education institutions across the country are facing difficult decisions about how best to re-open (or close) their campuses for the fall semester. As president of Snow College, and like many of my colleagues in Utah, we have not been immune to that question.

As higher education administrators continue to navigate COVID-19, I urge them to adopt a student-first approach and develop policies that put student health, needs, and safety above everything else. Whether classes are fully online, in-person, or some combination of the two – students are going to be entering this academic semester with more personal and emotional challenges to learning than ever before. For Utah’s students of color or low socioeconomic status, they’re likely going to have an even more difficult time focusing on their studies, given the national dialogue on race that is occurring right now.

As most Utahns know, Snow is based in the small farming town of Ephraim. We’re home to more than 5,000 college students, but the remaining community skews far older. Most of our students are not from Ephraim or neighboring communities, but hail from the Wasatch Front. Because of that, navigating COVID-19 this past semester was a challenge for not only the college but our larger community. However, alongside our community and fellow Snow College leaders, we were able to navigate this challenge and finish the spring semester by transitioning to remote learning and online courses. In doing so, we ended the semester with no confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the student population, and less than a dozen cases in Ephraim.

As Snow plans to re-open in-person classes for the upcoming semester, via a hybrid model of both  online and in-person courses and services, I’m hoping to continue the success of our spring semester by practicing these student-first initiatives:

Bring safety to the forefront of student’s minds: Because Snow’s infection rate was so low, COVID-19 was often seen as “someone else’s disease.” Many students didn’t personally know or hear of anyone close to them getting the coronavirus, and so it was easy for them to view it as a problem for other people in Salt Lake City or outside of the state. Along with other leaders in Ephraim, Snow administrators made it a priority to communicate the need for enhanced safety and wellness practices regularly with students and local residents to remind them of the pervasive nature of the virus and the needed protocols for staying safe. In doing so, we saw the overwhelming majority of students and faculty wear masks and practice proper social distancing. I strongly believe that Snow’s unique community and support for one another motivated behavioral change, even as “pandemic fatigue” increased.

Snow Town Hall meetingWork together as a larger community: As safety guidelines change almost daily, we found the most effective way to keep students and residents informed was partnering with local leaders. In March, I helped form an emergency operations committee of key stakeholders, including Snow College administrators, the local police force, student representatives, faculty, housing administrators, city managers, and other government officials, to meet on a weekly (or more) basis. At that same time, we began hosting regular virtual town hall meetings that were open for anyone to join. These town hall discussions proved invaluable because they provided a forum for our community members to ask questions and helped us reduce misinformation. Students and community members felt heard, and we were able to adapt policies as needed. As a new semester approaches, Ephraim and Snow’s leaders will continue to prioritize communication and information-sharing as we support the well being and safety of our community.

Unfortunately, Ephraim is no longer free of COVID-19 cases, and we’re seeing numbers surge across Utah. Like the rest of the nation, we’re looking for a guiding principle to ensure we keep our students and our community safe. I encourage educators and school administrators at all levels (K-12 and higher education) to listen, work with local leaders, and put students first.


Brad CookBradley J. Cook is the President of Snow College and Professor of History. He is an alum of Snow and a native of central Utah.

Prior to his current position he served for 10 years as Provost and Executive Vice President at Southern Utah University (SUU). While at SUU he worked to elevate SUU’s academic reputation as a premier public regional university and advanced an ambitious agenda of internationalizing the university.

With 25 years of executive administrative experience in higher education, he has also served as President of the Abu Dhabi Women’s College in the United Arab Emirates, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Utah Valley State College (UVSC), and Vice President for College Relations also at UVSC (now Utah Valley University).

As a student, Dr. Cook completed with honors a bachelor’s and master’s degree at Stanford University, where he also started as a cornerback for Stanford’s football team. As a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellow, he received a doctoral degree in Middle East Studies from the University of Oxford in Great Britain.

He is also the author of the book, Classical Foundations of Islamic Educational Thought, published by Brigham Young University Press. He has special research interests in Islamic educational theory, comparative religion and international and comparative education. Dr. Cook is active in his academic field, maintaining a consistent research and publication agenda. His publications can be found in a wide variety of academic journals.


cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square1.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. If you like to know more how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com 

SEVP modifies temporary exemptions for non immigrant students taking online courses during fall 2020 semester

July 12, 2020 – Edu Alliance asked Ken Salomon, co-chair of the Thompson Coburn LLP Lobbying & Policy Group and a member of the Edu Alliance Advisory Council and Katie Wendel, counsel in Thompson Coburn’s higher education practice group to give our readers their insight on the recent actions by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) published Broadcast Message 2007-01 – COVID-19 and Fall 2020, related to the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (“SEVP”).  F-1 and M-1 Visas allow international students to study full-time in the United States, and typically only allow non-immigrant students to count one online class per term toward their course of study. Due to COVID-19, SEVP instituted a temporary exemption regarding the online study policy for the spring and summer semesters. This policy permitted F- and M-Visa students to take more online courses than normally allowed for purposes of maintaining their F-1 and M-1 non immigrant status during the COVID-19 emergency (including fully online programs during that time).

The following is the news release issued by ICE:

SEVP changes July 6 2020

With the Broadcast Message, SEVP has indicated that non-immigrant students studying in the U.S. using an F-1 or M-1 Visa will not be permitted to remain in the United States if their program is held entirely online for the fall semester. SEVP stated that some flexibility will continue for schools that adopt an in-person or hybrid model for Fall 2020, but will not continue for students in the United States studying at schools operating entirely online.  At present, there is no clear guidance regarding how much of a course must be on-ground to be “hybrid.”

New students beginning programs this fall will not receive visas if their school plans to operate online-only.  Students who are already enrolled are required to transfer to a school offering at least some in-person classes or leave the country (where they are permitted to continue their courses online).

Schools that will be entirely online or will not reopen for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP no later than Wednesday, July 15, 2020. Schools that will offer an in-person or hybrid program for Fall 2020 must notify SEVP of their plans by August 1, 2020.  These deadlines put intense pressure on schools to decide how they will move forward under these changes.  Many schools are contemplating hybrid methods, but are reluctant at this point in time to commit to requiring students, faculty and staff to return to campus amid the COVID-19 pandemic.  This decision is especially hard when schools found success operating online over the last four months and have no other reason to require attendance in person until local, state and national health officials say it is safe to do so.

F-1 and M-1 non-immigrant visas allow international students to study in the U.S. within specific parameters.  As part of these programs, higher education institutions track sponsored students, ensuring their presence in the U.S. complies with relevant law and regulation.  The prohibition on F-1 and M-1 students participating in online-only educational programs is intended to further compliance, as well as national security.  This week, with most schools between terms, SEVP has revived its prohibition on F-1 and M-1 students enrolling in online-only curriculum’s.

Many argue that the exemption SEVP put in place in the spring should remain in place as the country continues to grapple with COVID-19.  In fact, Harvard, M.I.T and the University of California have all filed lawsuits against the federal government to try to block this policy shift for fall of 2020.  Harvard and M.I.T. claim that this has put higher education institutions in “the untenable situation of either moving forward with their carefully calibrated, thoughtful, and difficult decisions to proceed with their curricula fully or largely online in the fall of 2020 … or to attempt, with just weeks before classes resume, to provide in-person education despite the grave risk to public health and safety that such a change would entail.”

In addition to the logistical problems schools face with this change, many schools could face a substantial revenue loss from their large international student population.  Analysis from the National Association of Foreign Student Advisers finds that international students studying at U.S. colleges and universities contributed $41 billion and supported 458,290 jobs in the U.S. economy during the 2018-2019 academic year.

For further information from SEVP on this announcement, please see the FAQ issued by the agency on July 7, 2020. For further information or questions regarding the announcements or steps towards compliance by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) concerning the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP), contact Katie Wendel at Thompson Coburn.

Update July 14, 2020. Multiple News outlets have reported The Trump administration rescinded a policy that would have stripped visas from international students whose courses move exclusively online amid the coronavirus pandemic. https://thehill.com/homenews/administration/507293-trump-administration-rescinds-policy-to-strip-visas-from-foreign


katie-wendel head shotKatie Wendel is counsel in Thompson Coburn’s higher education practice group. She handles a wide variety of regulatory and transactional work for the nonprofit and for-profit higher education sector, including online education programs, and has extensive knowledge of the laws and policies affecting colleges and universities. In addition to her comprehensive regulatory work, Katie represents higher education institutions and investors in the postsecondary sector. She works with state, federal, and accrediting agencies on behalf of colleges and universities and helps her clients maintain compliance with complex agency rules and standards.

ken-salomon 2nd head shotKen Salomon is a co-chair of the Thompson Coburn LLP Lobbying & Policy Group and serves on the Edu Alliance Group Advisory Council. He has spent his entire legal career in the public and private sectors in Washington, DC and has a thorough understanding and appreciation of how lobbying can advance client needs and interests. He has helped clients develop and implement winning lobbying strategies by crafting and implementing innovative approaches to affect the formation of public policy in the U.S. Congress and the administration. Ken is an elected member of the Ethics Committee of the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee.

Edu Alliance also thanks from Thompson Coburn, Kelly Simon, lead immigration partner, and Aaron Lacey, head of higher ed legal and regulatory practice for contributing to the article.

 

cropped-edu-alliance-logo-square.jpgEdu Alliance Group, Inc. (EAG) is an education consulting firm located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates and Bloomington, Indiana USA. We assist higher education institutions worldwide on a variety of mission critical projects. Our consultants are accomplished university / college leaders who share the benefit of their experience to diagnose and solve challenges.

EAG has provided consulting and successful solutions for higher education institutions in Australia, Egypt, Georgia, India, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Nigeria, Uganda,  United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Edu Alliance offers higher education institutions consulting services worldwide. Our US office specializes in assisting universities on international projects and partnerships. If you like to know more how Edu Alliance can best serve you, please contact Dean Hoke at dean.hoke@edualliancegroup.com