Study abroad cancellations due to coronavirus puts students’ academic standing in question

USC is compensating travel fees, but there is no guarantee for refunds of course tuition.

The university is requiring students studying abroad in South Korea and northern regions of Italy to return back to the United States in response to the surge of coronavirus cases in the two countries. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a Level 3 travel advisory for South Korea, urging citizens to avoid non-essential visits to the country.

“We're guided by the fact that the safety and wellbeing of our students is essentially our highest priority,” said Anthony Bailey, the vice president for strategic and global initiatives. “The situation is very fluid.”

The university is working with advisors, schools and partnered institutions in South Korea and Italy to develop an academic continuity plan for returning students specific to the study abroad programs they are enrolled in, according to Bailey.

“We really are taking an approach right now of developing an individual plan of each student that takes into account what their needs are,” said Chief Health Officer Sarah Van Orman.

Returning students from affected study abroad programs will be screened by the university. They will be connected to appropriate medical care if a student might be at risk, according to Van Orman.

While the university is compensating students for travel fees back to the United States, refunds for course tuition are not guaranteed, according to Bailey.

“We just don't know what the situation is yet in terms of refunds from the partner institution,” Bailey said. “That's what the financial aid office and the registrar are going to be working through.”

USC Housing is currently working to explore housing options for returning students.

“We're going to have a spot for every student within either the main campus or off campus,” Bailey said.

Returning students from cancelled study abroad programs have expressed their irritation with the cancellation of their programs and the current lack of clear options for the remainder of the semester.

“It’s really frustrating because it’s already half way through the semester and I know the add drop deadline for USC has passed,” said Kayla Eremita, a student studying abroad at Studio Arts College International in Florence, Italy. “It’s not our fault; it’s no one’s fault. it’s beyond frustrating.”

Eremita said she’s considering enrolling in summer courses if the university doesn’t provide her credit for this semester.

Van Orman reminded students that the apparent threat of the coronavirus may have exceeded its true risk for individuals in the United States.

“It’s really important for people to understand their personal risk from this is very, very low,” Van Orman said. “When there’s so much communication, conversation and reporting, it’s very easy to have a sense that the risk of this is much higher than it actually is.”