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Amid coronavirus scare, US colleges cancel study abroad programs

In the face of a global health emergency, thousands of U.S. college students studying abroad are scrambling.

As the coronavirus spreads through northern Italy, some schools, including Syracuse University and New York University, announced they were closing their campuses in Florence immediately.

We have urged students to leave Florence for this period, NYU Spokesman John Beckman said in a statement.

Villa Rossa, Syracuse University campus in Florence, Italy

Source: Sailko | Wikipedia

Classes will continue remotely, as they are at NYU Shanghai in China, and students are strongly encouraged to return home, the university said.

“More schools will follow suit,” predicted Hafeez Lakhani, president of New York-based Lakhani Coaching. “The risk aversion is extremely high at universities.

“Everyone is going to err on the side of caution, there is too much liability.”

The risk aversion is extremely high at universities.

Hafeez Lakhani

president of Lakhani Coaching

Other U.S. schools, like Marist College, are keeping their overseas campuses open — for now — but offering students the option of leaving.

As of today, our assessment is that we are comfortable staying open,said John Peters, the dean of international programs at Marist’s Florence campus.

For students who choose to remain in Italy, Marist has banned travel to northern parts of the country, including the Lombardy and Veneto regions.

Despite the uncertainty, Peters predicts that Italy will remain a popular destination for students studying abroad through the fall.

This is a signature Marist experience,” he said. “Just about half of students study abroad during their undergraduate years and by far the Florence campus is the most popular destination.”

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Italy is second only to the U.K. as the most popular destination to study abroad. Nearly 37,000 American students went there in the 2017-2018 academic year, according to the Institute of International Education, or IIE, which has tracked the flow of international students since 1919.

However, in recent years, China has also become a popular destination for American students heading abroad, the Institute of International Education found. There are now close to 12,000 students from the U.S. studying in the country, according to the IIE’s most recent data. 

“This has been a really coveted opportunity for any student interested in business across the U.S.,” according to Lakhani.

Many schools, including Cornell University, have already suspended travel to China because of the coronavirus outbreak. As of Feb. 25, China’s National Health Commission said there were 77,658 confirmed cases of the virus, named COVID-19, there nationwide.

“The university will not permit Cornell-related undergraduate, graduate or professional student travel to mainland China until such time as Cornell’s International Travel Advisory and Response Team (ITART) removes China from the elevated-risk destinations list,” Cornell’s Provost Michael Kotlikoff said in a statement.

On the flip side, students coming to the U.S. from China are in a similar predicament. For years, there has been a major influx of Chinese students studying in this country. In 2018-2019, there were roughly 370,000 students from China studying in the U.S., according to the Institute of International Education.

In fact, more international students in the U.S. come from China than any other nation, both in sheer numbers and as an overall percentage, the IIE said. 

But those numbers had been falling more recently due to changing attitudes abroad about studying in the U.S. and more restrictive student visa policies.

The coronavirus outbreak “throws fuel on the fire,” Lakhani said. “This is a huge hit for international students.”

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