An Emerging Threat: How Coronavirus is Impacting Higher Education

Before the start of this new decade, a novel virus emerged in Wuhan, China, on New Year’s Eve. COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, has created 73,260 cases and caused 1,868 deaths as of February 17, according to Time.

University and college administrators, staff, faculty and student affairs officials continue to take precautions for the virus. With campuses being hubs for thousands of students—including international students—here’s a look at how higher education is responding to concerns over the spread of the virus.

Inside Higher Ed wrote an editorial about the virus potentially causing an enrollment crisis across the country, particularly for Chinese students studying in the U.S. Many Chinese students have been unable to return to the U.S. since the outbreak began, impacting the link many universities have with their Chinese university counterparts. The virus has also impacted outreach and recruitment as well, with uncertainty over if Chinese students accepted to universities will even be able to attend.

Reuters also reported on how colleges are working with Chinese universities and students to avoid an outbreak. For example, the University of Illinois–Urbana-Champaign has “suspended academic programs in China for the spring semester and banned students from traveling to the country for academic-related matters.” 

Business Insider detailed how some colleges have enforced strict quarantines on students returning from China. Some universities, notably Princeton, have also been advised to tell students to self-quarantine, according to MarketWatch. The article reports that “New York University, Columbia University, the University of Michigan, and Purdue University” have sent out alerts to students for emergency plans.

The coronavirus has also affected how Chinese students are treated on campuses as well. The Washington Post explored how administration and student leaders combat xenophobic rhetoric and actions. Diverse Education discussed cases of racial profiling and discrimination affecting Chinese and Asia-Pacific students around the country.

The virus has begun to infect the fear of university faculty as well. An Inside Higher Ed article reports at least one University of Florida professor asked students to leave their classroom for coughing. Joseph Glover, provost at UF, sent a note to deans and department chairs to “please inform [their] instructors that they are not to excuse a student from class to confirm they are free of the coronavirus.”

For those encountering coronavirus misinformation and panic, The Conversation shared a guide on how to best communicate with people spreading virus myths. The article recommends a nine-step approach:

  1. Understand how people perceive and react to risks
  2. Recognize people’s concerns
  3. Be aware of your own feelings
  4. Ask why someone is worried
  5. Keep in mind the facts will change
  6. Admit when you’re wrong
  7. Politely provide your own perspective
  8. Model the behaviour you want to see on social media
  9. Don’t make it worse online

Finally, resources like the World Health Organization remain official sources for news and updates for the coronavirus. There may not be a clear right or wrong way to address the virus, but keeping updated through official channels will properly educate for the next steps.


  • Steve Chaplin

    Steve Chaplin is managing editor of ACUI’s The Bulletin and manager of the ACUI College Union and Student Activities (CUSA) Evaluation Program. A former newspaper writer, editor, and manager, he has volunteered as a student mentor as a member of the National Association of Science Writers, and received awards for his writing and reporting from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education, the Kentucky Education Association, and the Kentucky Press Association.

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