US Colleges Race To Cancel Study Abroad Programs, Especially In Italy, Amid Covid-19 Spread

With the confirmed number of coronavirus cases in Italy now nearing 400, including 12 deaths, and Germany, France and Spain now witnessing a growing caseload, a growing number of American universities are now canceling their study abroad programs due to Covid-19 fears

Fox News reports that at least seven universities have suspended programs in Italy alone with more schools expected to take the drastic action. In many cases it involves disrupting current ongoing programs, and undergoing the logistically difficult feat of getting hundreds of students home early to the US. 

Image via Diablo Valley College

Schools especially with programs in southeast Asia are carefully eyeing restrictions and/or suspending their programs altogether, such as Florida International University, which announced Tuesday it is halting its expansive study abroad programs in Italy, Japan, and South Korea.

The school's executive vice president, Kenneth G. Furton, said in a statement. "Education abroad spring programs to these countries are canceled. At the same time, any students or employees who are currently on university business in those countries must return to the U.S. immediately."

The statement those who did recently travel to these places to "quarantine themselves at home and to stay away from campus."

Universities are concerned their programs which allow students to spend weeks, months, or often whole semesters in Europe and Asia studying and exploring foreign countries could inadvertently see students and staff sent straight into impacted countries' virus epicenters, such as northern Italy. 

St. Peter's Square at the Vatican, via AP.

"This was a difficult decision for the university to make, given that these students were already immersed in these important global experiences," the dean of global education at Elon University, Woody Pelton, which just canceled its own programs, said in a news release.

"However, the health and safety of students is our top priority," he added.

In one notable instance, Syracuse University actually currently has hundreds of students studying abroad in Italy. CNN reports that at least 342 Syracuse students are now organizing early returns from Italy.

Among American universities lately canceling programs abroad include Syracuse University, New York University, Fairfield University, Elon University, Stanford University, the University of Southern California, Sacred Heart and the University of New Haven – according to Fox. 

Students in current programs in many cases took to social media to vent their having to come home on short notice, with one noting Stanford informed program members to "get out while you still can"

Gonzaga University in Washington state also announced late Wednesday it is suspending its Italy program, amid a fast growing trend of schools urging their students home this week.