By Shawn Chitnis

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4)– Colorado universities say they are working with international students to give them the option to remain enrolled at these colleges for the fall term by offering some in-person classes on campus. This week U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced that students who were taking all of their classes online would not get their visas renewed.

(credit: CBS)

“We’ve been working for several months now to think about what our fall is going to look like,” said Richard Holz, provost at the Colorado School of Mines. “International students are incredibly important to all of higher education but especially to Mines as well.”

International students make up about 10% of the total population at the School of Mines, according to Holz. He believes the university will be able to meet the requirements for this group to stay in Colorado and continue their studies. The fall schedule is 95% complete, with 60% set to take place in person. Another 18% of classes will be a hybrid of face-to-face and remote teaching, the remainder will be online only.

“We will be able to work with all of our international students and we will do our best to accommodate them so that they will meet the criteria laid out in this order,” Holz told CBS4 Wednesday on a video conference call. “In all of our discussions over the last several months, the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff is our number one priority.”

Colorado State University in Fort Collins (credit: CBS)

ICE notified universities on Monday that international students would either need to transfer to another college or be forced to leave the U.S. New visas would not be issued to students at a school operating entirely online. If a college offered a mix of online and in-person classes, international students would not be allowed to take all of their classes online if they wanted to keep their visa.

The University of Colorado and Colorado State University issued statements this week suggesting that their fall schedules should meet the requirements by ICE to keep international students in the state.

“In addition to providing guidance to international students, we are also working with faculty and staff to explore other ways we can support them now and moving forward,” a CU statement said. “We are committed to providing educational opportunities that will allow them to continue their studies at CU Boulder.

Colorado colleges say the inclusion of international students not only brings diversity to their campuses, it also allows for collaboration with other institutions overseas. Leaders at CSU said they play a vital part in the community.

(credit: CBS)

“Since CSU is planning for hybrid in-person instruction in the Fall we are hopeful that our students’ ability to maintain their student visas will not be adversely impacted,” Kathleen Fairfax, CSU’s vice provost for international affairs, said in a statement. “However CSU is seeking clarification on several points in the guidance and we will update students when we have more information.”

Holz said the college is looking at who will be impacted by this policy and their current schedules. The school plans to advise those students on how they might adjust their schedules to avoid any inconvenience. Some may not get a visa in time and will stay in their home country but can continue to participate in their degree program remotely. All face-to-face lectures at Mines will be recorded so students can access that material virtually.

“One of the things we’ve learned is that our faculty is incredible, they shifted so quickly to remote learning,” he said. “We are learning from what we’ve done and what we currently are doing and we’re implementing best practices for the fall.”

The summer is usually a busy time for the campus but currently only 250 students are taking classes on site. Most of their work requires access to a lab. But Mines is following guidelines from the CDC and the governor including social distancing and requiring masks. They plan to reduce the number of students in a classroom and create pathways where people only enter a building one way and exit through another location.

“We’re going to do all we can to accommodate our international students,” he said. “I’m quite confident that we’ll be able to assist the vast majority of them and help them remain in school and advancing toward their career goals.”

For the fall semester, Mines plans to have 50% to 60% of their student body on campus with 80% of the dormitories occupied. This will allow some rooms to be used for quarantining if needed. But the university has to plan for a state mandate that would require all teaching to switch to remote learning. It is unclear what Mines and other colleges would do then for their international students. The guidance from ICE said international students would not receive an exemption if an outbreak forced a school to switch to exclusively online teaching.

“Our international students are critically important to us and we support them 100%,” Holz said. “Not only do they bring diversity to our campus but a diversity in thought and innovation and entrepreneurship and all the things that make STEM education so important and so rewarding.”

Shawn Chitnis

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