Why the impact of coronavirus could be particularly bad on college campuses

Universities across the US are places where students live and work in close quarters -- and where international partnerships are a point of pride.

But now, the same details that are selling points in campus brochures have become focal points of a different sort as colleges brace for a what's next.
Temporary campus closures, enrollment dips and program cancellations are all possibilities -- though it's too soon to know whether the novel coronavirus will force a large number of US universities to take such extreme steps. 
Already, some schools are canceling in-person classes. Officials say there's little doubt the effects will intensify, and they're doing everything they can to plan and prepare. 
"Everybody is really feeling this as such a tremendous disruptor, creating this huge sense of anxiety and uncertainty," said Cheryl Matherly, vice president and vice provost for international affairs at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
"It reminds you in a very real way that universities are truly international crossroads, where all the ways that a disease like this could have an impact are coming to bear," Matherly said.

Whether or not you're at a college or university, the virus is threatening to disrupt everyone's daily life -- if it hasn't already. But on campuses across the US, the impact could be particularly acute. Here are five reasons why.

There are more than 1 million international students at US universities. And more than a third of them are from China

American universities started feeling the first ripple effects of the novel coronavirus soon after the disease began spreading in China.
More than 360,000 foreign students in the United States are Chinese; that's more than a third of the total international student population. And for many, fears of the impact the virus is having on friends and family in China have taken an emotional toll. 
"One of my grad students said to me she couldn't bear to look at her phone anymore," Matherly said. "There were so many terrible things happening, and how stressful that is when she's sitting here in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania."

The US government's imposition of travel restrictions threw things into further flux, not just on US campuses, but for Chinese students thousands of miles away who were trying to return to them.
"I'm basically stuck in China right now. ... I have no idea when I'm going to be able to come back," said Benjamin Cai, a 25-year-old graduate student in software engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, New Jersey.
US officials have described the travel restrictions as a valuable tool that helped slow the spread of the virus. 
Cai is one of a number of students who told CNN the suspension of visa processing in China has left them in limbo.

"My research funding has been suspended, too," said one Ph.D. student in molecular biology who asked to be identified only by his last name, Yang, because he feared he could face repercussions for speaking out.
More than 830 international students from China were in their home country when the virus outbreak happened and have not been able to come or return to the United States, according to results from a survey of US colleges and universities released Thursday by the Institute of International Education.
It's a small fraction of the total Chinese student population. But beyond uncertainty over the effect the coronavirus could have on individual students' academic careers, American universities are facing an even bigger question: How long will the coronavirus crisis last? And could it impact future enrollment of Chinese and other international students -- something many schools have come to rely on financially?
School officials say it's too soon to say. But they're already coming up with contingency plans. 
"We're looking at everything from if this doesn't resolve itself, do we offer students the opportunity to defer their admission to January or the next fall? Do we try to offer some online courses? Do we try to offer courses somehow in country?" said Robin Kaler, associate chancellor and director of public affairs at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 
"We're trying to be as innovative as we can in terms of finding solutions to this."

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