Last updated August 11, 2021
The global pandemic had an immediate and acute impact on American exchange programs and students – thousands of them through the State Department’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs (ECA) programs. For example, the total number of international students enrolled in U.S. schools decreased by 16 percent from the previous year for the fall 2020 academic semester.
This decline has had dramatic economic consequences. As a global leader in higher education, the United States has historically accepted more than one million international students into its colleges and universities annually; this inbound exchange accounted for nearly $40 billion in economic activity during the 2019-2020 academic year.
Recovery in Exchange Programs?
As the U.S. navigates the pandemic and its variants, higher education institutions are anticipating a strong recovery in international exchange programs. In June 2021, the Institute of International Education (IIE) released the following survey findings on the future of international educational exchange:
Local study abroad partners have already made adjustments for coronavirus including arrival quarantines, socially distanced and hybrid classrooms, mandatory mask wearing and readily available hand sanitizer, and some are considering vaccine requirements.
While a return to pre-pandemic levels of international exchange will not be immediate, U.S. higher education institutions are planning and hoping for a safe return to in-person instruction, both in the U.S. and at partner institutions abroad.