Trump Administration Rule Change Could Affect WKU International Students

Jul 10, 2020

Aerial of WKU campus and Guthrie clocktower
Credit WKU

The Trump Administration this week announced international students holding F-1 visas would have to return to their home countries if they do not attend in-person classes this fall.

The move took many in higher education by surprise, including Western Kentucky University Associate Provost for Global Learning and International Affairs, John Sunnygard.

In an interview with WKU Public Radio, Sunnygard discussed how he found out about the change.


Editors note: This interview has been edited for clarity and timing.

Sunnygard:
I learned about it from a message of notification that came across from CNN.

Was there any effort on behalf of the administration, to your knowledge at least, to reach out to any universities to give them an update on the policy?

Sunnygard:
No, there was not...this actually came as quite a surprise to us.

There are about 250-300 F-1 visa holders that were expected to be on campus this fall. How many of them are in danger of potentially having to go home?

Sunnygard:
Each individual student is going to be very different...as I understand it, they haven't registered for all their courses. And so, we don't know. You know, we're working with them to figure out how they can make sure that they are registered for courses in a way that does not jeopardize their visa status. That's what our focus really is on.

What does the outreach look like to try to reach these students to make sure that they have the resources they need?

Sunnygard:
We use many different modalities of commuicating with our students. So you know, WeChat for the Chinese students. Email, you know we use email for everyone but students don't always check their email. So, you know, we do WhatsApp, we are communicating via social media. You know, we want students to contact us so that we can give them the best advice and infromation so they can make the best decisions that will enable them to continue and succeed in their academic program.

Are you concerend about htis having a lasting impact on whether students abroad come to the US for higher education versus studying in England, for example?

Sunnygard:
Oh, absolutely...The United States has the best higher education system on the planet. And it is, it has been, and continues to be, I think, the most attractive destination for students to pursue an education. But we're expensive...In the last couple years, we've had a lot of very hostile messages coming out of the United States that are making people feel less welcome to come here, and they have exacerbated during the pandemic.

Dr. Timothy Caboni was among of one of the first school presidents in the state to announce that students will return to The Hill in the fall. Do you feel like this new guidance means, even if the coronavirus does spike and it no longer looks as appetiziing as it did when it was announced, that WKU is handcuffed in that decision that studnets must return in the fall. Just in terms of being able to keep these students here and able to finish their degrees?

Sunnygard:
Well, I am confident that Dr. Caboni and the university will make a decision on the basis of the health and safety of everyone in our community and what's best for our community...I can't speculate on his decision process. But, he has always articiulated that the health of the community is the most important priority.