University Town Hall Addresses International Student Needs During COVID-19

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The Kearney Center’s COVID-19 website offers valuable information continually updated to assist international students. Virtual advising is available on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Posted April 22, 2020


by LENNY KOUPAL, CSU Communications Coordinator

Top academic and financial staff at Minnesota State University, Mankato, addressed key concerns raised by international students impacted by COVID-19 during an April 20 Zoom conference.

Among staff on Monday’s conference was Interim Provost Matt Cecil, Vice President for Finance and Administration Rick Straka, Interim Dean of Global Education Anne Dahlman, and Jacy Fry, director of the University’s Kearney Center for International Student Services.

Since the campus’s closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, international students have been among the hardest hit. Under federal guidelines, international students can only be employed on campus.

Many of the University’s 1300 international students remain in Mankato while back in their home countries the pandemic has created financial difficulties for their supporting families.

In response to student hardships, the University decided to continue paying its 1500 student employees during the closure. The COVID payment equals a student’s average hours under normal employment conditions.

“For those students who were employed on campus, we have paid for all their scheduled hours for the rest of the spring semester,” Straka explained. “We are still paying for student work.”

About 250 students – many of them international students – employed by university dining services contracted to Sodexo have been furloughed because of the shutdown.

As of Monday, 170 of those students have been hired by the University’s library as part of a new archival project that is documenting the impact of the coronavirus on campus as well as globally.

Chris Corley, interim dean of library and learning, expects about 200 students to be hired for the project.

“They spun up from nothing a whole new employment plan for these students,” Dahlman added.

Dalhman said that efforts are also underway to expand the University’s Emergency Grant for students in need to include international students currently exempt from the program.

“There are a lot of regulations, we need to set it up right, so we are working with a lot of VPs,” Dahlman said “We have earmarked funding for that but it takes some time to get it structured correctly so we are not breaking any rules. All these things take a little bit of time. But everyone is working really hard to try to get this going as soon as possible.”

Funding seeks to be in place for Fall 2020.

In other areas of international student financial support, Fry said that independent funding through the Institution of International Education is seeking five nominees from among the University’s international student population.

Based on funding criteria among member universities, only five nominees could each qualify for $2500 in financial support.

Dolly Barauh, graduate student and former president of the International Students Association, questioned delays in programming assisting international students.

Cecil explained that much of the decisions followed federal and Minnesota State system guidelines as the country moved into social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

He added that the University responded quickly with technology and support as students moved to online courses. Other services such as Campus Cupboard were reopened to provide food relief to students.

“We’ve worked really hard to address these things as they came along,” he said.

Straka added that along with paying student employees, the University has refunded resident hall and parking fees for half of the spring semester.

“We are going to have processed over $6 million in refunds,” he said. “We’ve refunded student parking passes for this spring. We know we have eaten through our entire residence hall reserve just this spring with student fund refunds.”

Straka said the University is reviewing options for the $4.5 million allotted under the CARES Act Relief Fund. By passing funds on to all students, each enrolled student would get about $350. Another option could consider funding for students in need. However, extending funding to include international students is still in question at the federal level.

Fry reminded students that the Kearney Center’s COVID-19 website is a valuable source of information with Frequently Asked Questions continually updated. Also International Center staff are available for online assistance. Virtual advising is available from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. via Zoom. Staff and graduate advisors are assigned a caseload of students to assist.

Other concerns addressed during the online meeting:

Longer student health services hours: Currently the campus medical clinic and pharmacy is opened weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Online chat assistance is available. Students requested hours be extended to include the weekend.

Denied class registration for non-payment exceeding $100: This restriction is set at the system level, however, review for increasing the amount is in discussion. Similar discussion is reviewing tuition waivers.

Health insurance for international students seeking lower premiums and better care: “Those two things don’t go together” Fry explained. “The insurance plan we have for students is actually really, really good. It’s expensive. It’s a different experience if you are coming from somewhere that doesn’t have health insurance or health care is simply less expensive. We want to do right by the student and make sure you are covered well should something happen.”

Transportation and added bus routes: COVID-19 and campus closure has reduced the number of buses running. The University is working with the city to review the current number of bus routes operating. Operating routes are seeing as few as 10 passengers. Student input will help in identifying key bus routes for student use.

Summer employment impact: International students who have been attending for at least one academic year should contact their immigration advisor to determine if they can file for severe economic hardship employment authorization. If approved, this application to the U.S. government would allow students to work off-campus 40 hours a week. The approval process can take 90 days or more. Students should contact the International Center for more information.

Cultural contribution scholarships: Cultural Contribution Scholarships will remain in place into the summer. Current students will keep their same scholarship rates. Any changes will be implemented in the fall.

I-20 and Visa: Students whose 1-20 expires in May or this summer need to meet with their immigration advisor to file an extension request with required academic department sign off. This needs to be done before the I-20 expires as International Center cannot extend it. A visa can expire while a student is in the U.S. A visa is a student’s entry document into the U.S. International students returning to their home countries with an expired visa will need to leave enough time back home to make that visa appointment and have a valid visa in their passport before returning to the U.S.

Summer Fees: Those summer classes already scheduled by March 27 to be online will be charged the normal online differential fee. Those classes moved by COVID-19 from face-to-face to online courses will be charged as if held face-to-face.


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