Foreign Students Begin U.S. College Deferrals as Delta Spreads

With the delta variant of Covid-19 spreading across the U.S., some colleges are seeing a pickup in deferrals from international students as the worsening public-health situation adds uncertainty for those already struggling to secure flights and visas.

It is one more sign that campuses will be anything but normal this fall, as schools have had to turn to mask mandates, vaccine requirements and testing regimens to get students back to in-person learning and keep them safe amid the surge in infections.

In a typical year, about 1 million foreign students come to the U.S. to study, led by those from China and India. Deferrals from this group aren’t likely to be as widespread as they were last fall. But any uptake of this option could be a drag for schools, not least because international students tend to pay full tuition.

“As of the last week or two, we’re starting to get phone calls,” said Erin O’Brien, assistant dean and chief enrollment officer at University at Buffalo School of Management, part of New York’s state university system. “When we get phone calls from overseas, they’re usually deferrals.”

O’Brien said that last year, 44% of those admitted to the graduate business school ended up deferring. The proportion was higher among international students, with 59% of them choosing this route. This year, with a week left before classes begin, only 6% of foreign students have deferred, though she expects that figure to increase.

“If they were completely absent from our campus, it’s obviously a revenue hit,” O’Brien said, referring to all international students at the school. “It’s also a campus community hit, a cultural hit, a student life hit.”