What COVID-19 Means for the US Education System?

Every generation of humanity has experienced their share of transitional periods, be it as consequential as the Second World War, or as small as being temporarily bedridden due to injury. The same concept can be used to study history in a different light - as a compilation of events that initiated the strongest ripples of transition in the various aspects of human life.

As any mature and experienced enough man would tell you, change is a constant in the universe. It’s this change that led to human evolution and towards the development of society and the invention of all the things that make life worth living.

However, as everything has exceptions, one of the few constants in life is the importance of education. It is something that has been so deeply ingrained in our culture that we cannot let go of it irrespective of the substitutes available to us. Today we see a scenario which is a clash between this constant and the period of fundamental transition fostered by COVID-19.

The United States is a global education hub, with some of the most coveted educational institutes across the field of STEM, business, law and the arts. Students from all over the world dedicate a significant portion of their lives to the cause of securing admission into an elite US university. The country also greatly benefits from the international student community, as their annual contribution to the US GDP is at a massive $41 billion. Additionally, the cultural influence and innovation that the international community brings has, over the years, furthered the stronghold of many American companies in their respective markets. Nevertheless, the Trump administration has been rooting against international students who migrate to the USA in search of education and livelihood. That paired with a disease outbreak that has no fool-proof methods of containment has damaged educational prospects for a lot of international students.

The American Council of Education predicts that a fall of as much as 25% in foreign student applications is anticipated for the upcoming academic year. This, though backed by the administration in charge, sets off a loud alarm as the impact would be drastic on the American corporate sector.

Firstly, America may be the pioneer in education, but it’s not the only player in the game. A lot of other countries like the UK, Canada and Australia offer equally enticing educational opportunities and have better migration and settlement policies. This may turn out to be the deciding factor for international students for whom an investment in a country other than the USA brings more to the table, especially in a highly uncertain situation like that of the present. The growing culture of administrative hostility towards immigrants would eventually lead to stagnation in diversity and curb the advantages that it offers.

Secondly, America is severely undermining the importance of international talent in keeping its corporate sector afloat. The influx of international funds in the form of fees, taxes, healthcare, bank deposits, etc contributes significantly to the economy. Due to the strictness of pre-existing work visa and green card policies, the proportion of foreign students that enrol in US programmes to those who actually find employment in the US to those who receive special work visas like H1B or obtain green cards moves in a decreasing order. Moreover, 1 out of 4 US startups, which are worth millions of dollars, are founded by international students. Therefore, calculation of the net impact of international students on the economy, irrespective of the time period, would yield a positive quotient.

Finally, the lack of foreign influence would push the US into a state of cyclical perpetuity. The presence of international student communities supports more than just the economy, as it has been pivotal in reforming American society, and overcoming racial and cultural prejudice. This has helped American companies expand and explore international opportunities, and develop a workforce that is comfortable working outside their countries. It has popularised US education across the globe, which, over the years, has attracted countless employers and investors.

Over the years, many American institutions have moulded personalities who would go on to become leaders and forerunners in their respective fields. It has helped the American education system develop a global imprint, as a lot of individuals, that are its product, represent it in any sphere they venture into. Reduction in international students, after a certain point, would reduce this influence that the US enjoys in shaping leaders of various sectors, disciplines, and even nations.

Summing it all up, the US, like any other nation, needs to evolve in various respects as and when required to maintain its reputation as a global leader. The driving force behind such evolution is the product of interactions between the international and local communities. A long term trend of decline in international students would cause the nation to involuntarily impose a glass ceiling on its growth potential. Therefore, it is indispensable for American colleges and universities to acknowledge the “new normal” and devise methods to attract international student applications. The first step that can be taken in this regard would be dismissing the suspension of student and special work visas, and ensuring that the impact of the pandemic-induced economic slowdown is minimal on college fees, educational loans and international student aid.


Aryaman Dhiman

I am an undergraduate student at Shri Ram College of Commerce. Over the years, my interests have jumped ship between art, theater, and sports, but my love for religious and historical research remains unchanged.

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