In May 2023, the United States Department of Homeland Security announced its return to pre-COVID regulatory language policies, meaning the flexibilities that previously allowed international students to take unlimited online classes officially ended in August.
International students are only allowed to take one online course per semester to count toward full-time enrollment, according to an email sent by Temple’s International Students and Scholar Services department in July 2023.
It’s essential for international students to be registered as full-time students because of their F-1 or J-1 visas, according to DHS. Many current international students came to Temple while the COVID-19 flexibilities were still active, allowing them to take online classes without any restrictions. Students now have to adapt to the normal regulations that came back last Fall semester.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us, online classes are incredibly useful, as they provide flexibility and allow students to fit more activities in their daily schedules. It’s essential for students’ college experience to be able to do more activities other than study and attend classes. College is a time for young people to explore what’s around them and gather life experience that will help form who they’ll become. DHS should return to the flexibility they allowed during the pandemic so international students can have the same opportunities as their peers.
More than 1,100 undergraduate students were international during the Fall 2020 semester, according to Temple’s Fall 2020 student profile. Those students had flexibility to take unlimited online classes until May 2023, but have since needed to adjust to the regulations in place.
Flavia Astete Garcia has taken a few online classes while at Temple and has found them useful as they allow her to balance out her lifestyle.
“I’ve had maybe three online classes since I started at Temple and I feel like they are very useful especially if you are a student that has a lot to do,” said Garcia, a junior advertising major and international student from Perú. “It’s nice not worrying about going to a classroom and getting the chance to sit in a quiet place and take the class from there.”
HOW ONLINE CLASSES WORK FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
The regulations on online classes for international students can be confusing and hard to understand. Students who were previously allowed to take unlimited online classes need to be aware of the changes so they can plan their class schedules accordingly without compromising their immigration status.
“Current federal regulations state that all international students on an F-1 visa must enroll in a minimum of 12 units each Fall and Spring semester,” wrote Paige Hughes, the spokesperson of immigration and customs enforcement, in an email to the Temple News. “At least 9 units must be in-person or hybrid, and only 1 online class of no more than 3 units can count toward the required 12 units.”
Students now have to be cautious when planning their schedules; if they only want to take 12 credits, which is the minimum requirement to count as a full-time student, then they are only allowed to take one online course.
International students need to have at least nine in person credits according to the regulations by DHS. If they decide to take more than 12 credits, they can take more than one online course.
However, they will not be able to take two in person courses and two online courses without putting their student visa and immigration status in jeopardy. For example, if a student wishes to enroll in exactly 12 credits, they can only take one, three-credit online class in addition to three in person.
“If [international students] want to take more classes, be it 18 and get an overload, the classes can be online and the only other restriction is that if it’s the final semester, when you are graduating, it can’t just be an online class,” said Joan McGinley, director of immigration services at Temple.
It’s not up to Temple to change the regulations regarding online classes for international students, because DHS is the one in charge of those decisions. Institutions, like Temple, have to oblige because it’s a federal requirement.
“[Regulations on online classes] are federal regulations across the country,” McGinley said. “Any institution in the U.S. that’s been approved to issue I-20 is subjectives to those rules.”
WHY ONLINE CLASSES ARE IMPORTANT FOR INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Online classes allow students to have a more flexible schedule and gives them the opportunity to manage their own time in an efficient manner.
It’s easier for students to have a job when they have the flexibility provided by online classes because they do not require students to go to campus every day.
International students pay approximately $34,176 every year to attend Temple, and they should be able to choose as many online classes they want, as it would give them the opportunity to continue their education more efficiently by working, getting internships and making connections.
There is also a bigger variety of online courses that don’t have an in-person equivalent, putting international students at a disadvantage.
For example, all sections of Introduction to German I for the Spring 2024 semester were online and there wasn’t an option to take the class on Main Campus. Restrictions around online classes make it harder for international students to take fun electives or find certain classes they need for their major.
It’s unfair that international students have to worry about restrictions and they should have the same access to online courses as their peers.
García believes online classes bring both advantages and disadvantages, but it’s up to each student to decide what they want and what is suitable for them.
“They are very convenient, especially for a student who is busy and has a lot of things to do outside of school and it’s always rushing and running around,” García said. “It’s nice to have a minute to sit down alone without having to worry about getting to a classroom and long into class from the comfort of my own home or even the library.”
Taking online classes is a personal decision, and international students deserve the opportunity to make their own choices regarding their academic careers.
Having to consider the minimum requirement for online classes makes scheduling courses harder for international students because they have to keep track of in-person credits. They shouldn’t have to keep regulations in mind while also juggling the regular worries that come with being a college student, like balancing school work, having a part time job and figuring out their professional futures.
Online learning has become more popular in recent years and some students prefer it more than traditional classes, according to a 2023 survey by Tyton Partners, an investment bank. There are students who simply prefer online classes because it fits their specific learning style and international students should also be able to choose the method of learning that adapts best to their needs and preferences.
Taking online classes can mark the difference between a successful and unsuccessful semester, and international students should have the same opportunities.
The idea of coming to the U.S. to study should not be limited to classroom experiences and being more flexible with regulations that impact international students should enhance their learning experience in this country.
The DHS should revise the restrictions surrounding online classes for college students to make sure their college years are as successful and enriching as they can possibly be.