Many first-year international students might not be able to get into the United States to attend college this fall, given coronavirus-related visa restrictions.

But as universities nationwide are anticipating a dip in international enrollment this year — by as much as 25%, according to some projections — some local colleges are figuring out ways to hold on to the students. They contribute vitally to campus culture and the economy, with many paying full tuition.

Pennsylvania State University and Lehigh University in Bethlehem — both planning to open in the fall with a hybrid method of instruction — are setting up partnerships with universities in other countries to keep the students who cannot get into the United States enrolled and on track to receive their degree until they can get a visa.

Through a program called Penn State First, nearly 500 first-year Chinese students scheduled to attend Penn State will start their studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai, and 39 Korean students will attend Yonsei University in Seoul, president Eric Barron said at a board of trustees meeting last month. Students will take the equivalent of Penn State general education classes, which will be taught in person by faculty at the universities in those countries and remotely by Penn State faculty.

“It’s an innovative way … for us to meet them where they are, and for them to be able to continue when they are able to be at Penn State in person,” Barron said.

New York University, the University of Pittsburgh, and Franklin and Marshall in Lancaster are among other schools that are preparing to have first-year international students study on campuses abroad. In NYU’s case, students can take classes at one of its campuses in other countries, including Shanghai and Abu Dhabi.

Other local schools, including Bryn Mawr, Temple, and Rutgers, have not specified any special programming in other countries for international students. The campuses plan to offer some in-person classes, which students can take if they can get into the country.

Last month, Immigration and Customs Enforcement caused panic on campuses when it said international students could not remain in the country if their colleges opted for online-only classes in the fall. The agency has since reversed that stance, but the reversal applies only to students who were enrolled in a college on March 9. First-year students pursing an online-only course load are not able to enter the country, and even those planning to take in-person classes may face travel and flight restrictions and closed U.S. consulate offices. .

Roger Brindley, Penn State vice provost for global programs, said the university’s program for international students had nothing to do with the July ICE directives and was planned and ready in June. Lehigh’s program also was in the works before the directive came out.

Lehigh has made arrangements for 80 of its 134 international first-year undergraduate students to take courses at partnership universities in six countries through its Lehigh in Residence program, said Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs. Students will pay tuition to Lehigh, and Lehigh will reimburse those institutions, she said.

“Students can begin studying and make progress toward their degree while they are waiting on their visa,” Matherly said.

In China, students will take preapproved courses taught in English and in person by local faculty, and at least one class taught remotely from Bethlehem, she said. In the other countries, including South Korea, India, and Pakistan, students will take courses at the local universities and two courses remotely from Bethlehem.

Yiting Chen, from Anhui, China, is a rising Lehigh first-year student enrolled in the Lehigh in Residence in Shanghai program.
Courtesy of Yiting Chen
Yiting Chen, from Anhui, China, is a rising Lehigh first-year student enrolled in the Lehigh in Residence in Shanghai program.

Yiting Chen, a rising Lehigh first-year student from Anhui, China, had hoped to begin pursuing her mathematics degree on the Bethlehem campus, with its extensive libraries and resources and an English-speaking environment that would allow her to improve her language skills. But amid visa cancellations, she is grateful for the Lehigh in Residence in Shanghai program, which will provide her with some semblance of a campus atmosphere.

And, she said she will feel safer staying in her home country, due to China’s more effective handling of the pandemic.

“In Shanghai, there’s almost no coronavirus now, and all the campus [buildings] and hotels are very safe, so I don’t worry about this,” she said. “But on Lehigh’s campus, I could meet students from all over the world.”

Kelly Sun, from Shanghai, China, is a rising Lehigh first-year student enrolled in the Lehigh in Residence in Shanghai program.
Courtesy of Kelly Sun
Kelly Sun, from Shanghai, China, is a rising Lehigh first-year student enrolled in the Lehigh in Residence in Shanghai program.

Incoming Lehigh first-year student Kelly Sun, who is from Shanghai, is also appreciative of the program, which she said allows her to make friends and take classes in a safer environment.

“Even with some disappointment, I can understand this decision, and … it’s a good decision,” she said.

There are some countries, particularly those that allow only remote instruction, where Lehigh wasn’t able to establish a program, Matherly said. Those students may choose to either take their Lehigh classes online or defer to a later semester.

Alberto Guinand, playing guitar at a performance in Lima, Peru, in June 2020. He will be taking classes during his first semester at Lehigh online from Peru.
Courtesy of Alberto Guinand
Alberto Guinand, playing guitar at a performance in Lima, Peru, in June 2020. He will be taking classes during his first semester at Lehigh online from Peru.

Alberto Guinand, an incoming first-year student from Lima, Peru, where Lehigh was not able to establish a residence program, said he will take his classes from home to stay on track for graduation. But he will miss out on some experiences, including starting a band. He had already picked his bandmates.

Despite being unable to make it to campus this fall, Guinand, Chen, and Sun all praised Lehigh for its efforts to introduce international students to campus resources and culture through an online summer course called ENGL 095: Lehigh Life and Language for International Speakers. They hope to continue their studies in Bethlehem as soon as possible.

“We are thankful to Lehigh for giving us this option,” Sun said. “I can do nothing [about] the virus; all I can do is wait for someone to solve it and just hope everyone in America can [stay healthy].”