CDC Tells Colleges, Universities to ‘Consider’ Canceling Exchange Programs and Bringing Students Back

March 3, 2020 Updated: March 3, 2020

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidance for American colleges and universities, saying that they should “consider” canceling foreign exchange programs and asking exchange students to return to their home countries.

Although a number of institutes of higher education (IHEs) in the United States have already adjusted their exchange programs and international travel policies, the CDC guidance stressed the risk of spreading coronavirus at a global level.

“Given the speed of spread and the number of countries experiencing human-to-human transmission, IHEs should evaluate the risks associated with choosing to maintain programs abroad and take the appropriate proactive measures,” the CDC said in a statement on March 1, saying that IHEs should “consider” postponing or even canceling “upcoming” student foreign exchange programs. The CDC statement does not specify what counts as “upcoming”—whether it is spring break, summer session, or the fall semester.

The CDC notes that the IHEs should “consider asking current program participants to return to their home country,” which could be interpreted as referring to both foreign exchange students in American schools and to American students studying abroad. It says, however, in a later paragraph that IHEs should consider “asking students participating in study abroad programs to return to the United States.” It also advises the IHEs to work with state and local public health officials to figure out when and how to bring their students back from foreign countries that are considered “high risk for exposure.”

The CDC did not respond to The Epoch Times’s request for clarification.

The Forum on Education Abroad and Pulse, a non-profit organization that focuses on health and safety in academic travel, issued a joint statement in which they acknowledged the seriousness of the CDC guidance, but urged colleagues to read it as written—a guidance to consider, rather than a directive to be enforced.

“Students are not typically members of the population who may succumb to a virus like COVID-19,” the groups said. “Unlike typical travelers, students are supported on the ground at their various study sites by professional staff, faculty, and others who work to assure that students are provided information, assistance, guidance, and help when necessary.”

“We also want to acknowledge that different institutions will have different capacities to manage a complex issue such as COVID-19. Not every organization can be expected to react in the same way as those with professional staff devoted to addressing international health and safety considerations. We urge those institutions to reach out to your colleagues through professional networks. Look to what they are saying and recommending and then scale it so that it fits your context.”