Fall 2020: Transformation in a Time of Crisis

In the past six months, KU International Affairs has faced extraordinary challenges as it contended with a pandemic that halted international travel and upended international education. Yet, through the hard work, determination and dedication of our faculty and staff, KUIA has done what many would have considered impossible just a few months ago. 

This fall nearly 1,700 international students enrolled at KU. While KU has fewer international students on campus than in previous years, the enrollment numbers far surpassed KUIA’s most optimistic projections, which were based on national data trends predicting a 25 to 30 percent decline. To reach this successful outcome, KUIA has managed through changes in staffing and administration, unprecedented upheaval to immigration policies, the closure of U.S. consulate offices and suspension of routine visa services worldwide, national civil unrest, cancellation of all recruitment travel and a complete shift to virtual advising and orientation. Through it all, our recruitment, admissions, orientation and advising teams found ways to persevere, while engaging and supporting international students. 

Incredibly, more than 95 percent of KU’s continuing international students have remained in the United States since March. While staying in the U.S. meant enormous physical, financial and emotional sacrifices for these students, it also demonstrated that our international students know they belong here and that they see their futures aligned with continuing to pursue their dreams at KU. 

For the past six months, KU’s faculty and staff have strived to support our students. They have advised international students on their options to stay or leave the country, helped them maintain housing, connected them to institutional COVID-19 crisis funding, lobbied sponsoring agencies and worked with campus partners to advocate for international students. Taken together, these efforts ensured KU international students felt cared for, safe, at home and proud to be Jayhawks. 

With the transition to all virtual operations across KU in March, KUIA has moved into a new era, one that may have taken years to reach were it not for COVID-19. These changes have resulted in transformations throughout the division. I’d like to take a few moments to reflect on those efforts.

Study Abroad & Global Engagement

During the spring semester, Study Abroad & Global Engagement (SAGE) safely returned nearly 200 students who had been pursuing educational opportunities abroad. The team did so with care, grace, efficiency and kindness as they helped each student transition to a new learning environment within a matter of days. 
When summer and fall study abroad programs were canceled, the SAGE team created virtual internship programs, helped students pivot to online enrollment, established exciting international outreach programming in new virtual spaces, and continued planning in earnest toward winter and spring programs. While enduring an enormous amount of pressure, the SAGE team has thrived.

Applied English Center

Beginning with a spring break pivot to online instruction, the Applied English Center (AEC) completely transformed the way it teaches and assesses students’ language proficiency. 

The unit planned and delivered a fully online curriculum this summer, transitioned advising and programming support to virtual models and started the fall term with a hybrid curriculum to address the needs of students present on campus, as well as those who began their AEC studies from abroad. In addition to transforming how faculty teach, the AEC has transitioned to virtual proficiency testing and placement. 

The AEC’s work over the past few months positions the unit well with regard to the future inclusion of online program offerings, as well as the development of new campus-based instructional paradigms that enhance the educational experience of the AEC’s new and continuing students on campus. 

International Admissions

The number of new international undergraduate students who entered KU this fall exceeded KUIA’s most optimistic projections. This was despite a pandemic, a transition to a virtual office, the cancellation of all planned travel and in-person recruitment for the spring and summer, the downsizing of the Accelerator Program staff, a barrage of changes in U.S. immigration policy and, a continually changing context for summer and fall enrollment. Since March the extended international admissions team has shifted to virtual recruitment and engagement, partnered with the KU College of Liberal Arts& Sciences to ensure new first-year students abroad had an opportunity to enroll in the College Online program to begin their degrees, leveraged current student voices to tell the KU story, and answered countless questions. The efforts of this team have resulted in a cohort of first-year undergraduate students that are far above what KU had expected. 

International Short Programs

Throughout the pandemic, International Short Programs (ISP) supported two international group programs on campus. 
One group, faculty members from Zhejiang Normal University (ZJNU), came in December and had intended to stay through the end of March. Due to travel restrictions, however, they were unable to leave until the end of July. During this time, the ISP team served as the group’s rock, working tirelessly to support faculty members, ensuring they had continuity in terms of housing, programming and overall support. 

The information and communication challenges and the continual cancellation of return flights home meant that this group experienced an inordinate amount of personal and professional stress. The ISP team stood by them, and the result has been an exciting set of new conversations between KU and ZJNU leadership on the possible establishment of a series of undergraduate and graduate joint degree programs, as well as the continuation of the faculty development program with ZJNU. 

The second group, students from Kansai University, Japan, have thrived during their time at KU. Arriving right as the COVID-19 outbreak began in the United States, this group of 15 students went from a two-week hotel quarantine to a brief period of in-class instruction to virtual courses, followed by a summer filled with virtual internships and community service experiences. Twelve students in the cohort remained in Lawrence for the fall 2020 term. 

International Support Services

Over the past six months, International Support Services (ISS) has been transformed. ISS employees have helped international students in crisis access institutional funding to support them through the pandemic and shifted to an entirely virtual advising mode. 

The ISS team faced unprecedented tumult in international mobility with continual changes in immigration policy that have affected our students, scholars, and international employees in profound ways. Additionally, the broader national climate has been relatively inhospitable to international students, as well as to all under-represented communities. 

Through it all, the ISS team has not wavered in its commitment to and support of our international community. ISS adapted to new regulatory practices; ensured effective communications through programming and outreach efforts; advocated for international students at the federal, state and local level; transformed the website to enhance communication efforts; helped international students in crisis access institutional funding; and shifted to virtual advising.

The transition has been stunningly successful. ISS poured through the constantly changing immigration directives in order to advise the university on a fall course of action on enrollment to ensure continuing and new international students alike would continue to find a home and purpose at KU. 

ISS also transformed orientation into a virtual event that successfully served students near and far. Their efforts at welcoming new international students meant that future orientations will continue to improve and better serve students. 

Throughout the pandemic, KUIA units, the Kansas Academic Accelerator team, and our partners across campus chose a forward path of innovation rather than a make-do approach. That has made all the difference. The work KU’s team of international educators has done has been nothing short of transformative for the university as a whole. KU faculty and staff have risen and continue to rise to the many challenges and have shown ingenuity, dedication, resilience and passion for what they do. In their work, they have proven just how central internationalization is to our world-class university and they have inspired our entire community of Jayhawks.

Charles Bankart
Associate Vice Provost for International Affairs