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Coronavirus leaves many study abroad students in limbo
06:49 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

For some students in the US, school’s already out for the summer — sort of.

A growing number of colleges and universities around the country are canceling in-person classes and asking students to leave campus as a precaution to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Some, like Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Berea College, have asked students to vacate campus for the rest of the semester. Others, like the University of Washington and The Ohio State University, are moving their classes online for a few weeks while they continue to monitor the situation.

Students move out their dorms at Harvard University on March 12.

The announcements have disrupted higher education in ways that are nearly unprecedented. Students are scrambling to figure out where they’ll go next while instructors are trying to figure out how they can adapt their courses to online instruction.

Here are some of the most common and pressing questions students and parents are seeking answers to. (Note: Each school is responding to the virus differently, and situations on campus are changing rapidly by the day. For specific questions, it’s best to consult with officials at your college or university.)

Will students still receive their degrees?

Answer: Most schools seem flexible.

The coronavirus has disrupted higher education in ways that could potentially affect students’ progress toward their degrees.

Some students were enrolled in study abroad programs that have now been cut short. Others were engaged in fieldwork, internships or clinical rotations that have since been suspended. Such disruptions could put some students below the minimum credit hours required to be a full-time student or affect whether they’re able to gain entry to future courses.

Many colleges and universities that have announced significant changes in response to the virus have acknowledged these concerns, and are handling them according to their specific circumstances. Generally though, they seem to flexible.

Harvard, which has asked undergraduate students to move out by mid-March, said it is working with instructors to offer remote learning opportunities, alternative assessments and extensions.

The University of Washington, which has moved to online classes until March 20, said on its website that its goal is to make sure that “students’ academic work is fairly recognized and that any disruption does not present a disadvantage to their future academic progress.”

Will students and families be refunded for any expenses?

Answer: For the most part, this is up to each individual school.

It seems universities that have asked students to move out for the rest of the semester will likely compensate students and families for room and board expenses that have already been paid.

“We think that our colleges will do the right thing here and accommodate their students appropriately,” said Dan Madzelan, associate vice president for government relations at the American Council on Education.

Sophomore Sadia Demby moves her belongings through Harvard Yard on March 12.

Harvard said that room and board costs will be pro-rated for the rest of the year for students who are vacating their housing, adding that more information on calculating and processing those refunds is still to come.

For families who have been affected by coronavirus that may no longer be able to afford certain costs, financial aid administrators do have the authority to adjust the cost of attendance or a family’s expected contribution, according to guidelines from the Department of Education.

But the department states those decisions must be made on a case-by-case basis, “regardless of how broadly an event may affect its student population.”

What about students who are enrolled in classes that can’t be completed online?

Answer: A number of universities are deferring to instructors on how to handle these instances.

Online courses don’t make sense for every discipline.

Science classes often involve laboratory components. Performing arts classes typically require activities that can’t be completed at home. Physical education classes would be rendered obsolete.

Georgetown University, which has moved all classes online until further notice, told students that faculty members will be in touch about any adjustments.

At the University of Washington, professors could consider alternative options, including submitting grades based on work conducted up to this point.

Will students who were asked to move out on short notice get financial assistance?

Answer: In some cases, yes.

Some schools have asked undergraduate students to move off campus within a matter of days, posing a financial burden for many students.